TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Rival militias fought each other with heavy weapons southwest of the Libyan capital on Tuesday and two people were killed, in fresh evidence of the divisions in Libya’s society 10 months after an uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.
Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, and its Western backers, are hoping that tribal violence does not jeopardize a July 7 election to choose a national assembly.
The clashes were between fighters from the town of Zintan, who played a big role in ousting Gaddafi, and members of the El-Mashasha tribe, which chose not to join the rebellion, security officials said.
Resentment between the two groups spilled over into fighting in December last year in which at least four people were killed, and erupted again this week when a Zintan fighter was shot dead.
Zintan’s militias blamed El-Mashasha tribe and retaliated, leading to clashes that started on Monday and continued into Tuesday, said several members of the tribe contacted by Reuters.
One of them, Mohammed Salem, said the Zintan fighters were firing Russian-made Grad rockets at El-Mashasha positions, though this could not be confirmed.
An administrator at the hospital in nearby Gharyan, Omar Akiz, told Reuters: “Two bodies have been brought it from Shgega, they haven’t been identified. We have six injured.”
A delegation from the Interior Ministry in Tripoli, headed by deputy minister Omar al-Khadrawi, was on its way to the scene to try to negotiate a ceasefire.
“There is still tension ... and efforts are still being deployed to contain the situation,” Khadrawi told Reuters.
Outside Zintan, which is about 50 km north of where the clashes were taking place, local fighters blocked the road and said they had been given orders not to let anyone enter, according to a Reuters reporter trying to reach the town.
Gaddafi’s repressive rule kept in check the deep-running animosities in Libyan society, which often pitted villages, cities or tribes against their neighbors.
When Gaddafi was forced from power and later killed, old feuds re-surfaced. The situation was made more volatile because the country was awash with weapons looted from Gaddafi’s arsenals and the new authorities were too weak to intervene.
Another tribal conflict has flared in the town of Al Kufra near the borders with Chad and Sudan. On Sunday, 13 people were killed in fighting there between the Tibu and Zwai tribes.
Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Zintan; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Diana Abdallah