Civilians killed as armed groups clash in Libyan south

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Fighting between rival armed groups in the southern Libyan city of Sabha has left at least six civilians dead and wounded others, including women and children, a medical official said on Wednesday.

Sporadic clashes between the Sixth Division, which is attached to the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), and rival fighters from the Tebu ethnic group, started around Feb. 4, said Osama al-Wafi, a spokesman at Sabha’s main hospital.

The fighting has led to fears of an escalation of violence in Libya’s impoverished south, where the LNA has been trying to expand its influence and has clashed with groups aligned with the internationally recognized government in the capital, Tripoli.

The LNA is aligned with a rival government based in Libya’s east.

Sabha, about 660 km (410 miles) south of Tripoli, has been a hub for the smuggling of African migrants and other contraband towards Libya’s Mediterranean coast. It has seen occasional bouts of fighting linked to the wider conflict that developed after the country’s 2011 uprising.

The Sixth Division is largely composed of fighters from the Awlad Suleiman tribe. It is loyal to LNA leader Khalifa Haftar, who named new brigade commanders for the division this month.

Chadian and Sudanese fighters present in the area for several years and stationed outside the city had also been drawn into the fighting, according to a local security official.

One civilian was killed on Wednesday and at least four people were wounded, including two fighters and a child, said Wafi. The hospital had also been hit by shelling though this had not caused casualties, he said.

Earlier, at least five civilians had been killed and nine wounded, including women and children, Wafi said.

A Sabha resident contacted by Reuters said that some families living near the site of the most recent clashes had been displaced. Elsewhere in the city shops were open, though there was a shortage of medical supplies and fuel had only been available on the black market for the past four months, leading to long power cuts, he said.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams