Clashes between rival militias in southern Libya have left more than 30 dead, officials say, underscoring the inability of the country’s governing National Transitional Council (NTC) to assert its authority over the whole of Libya.
Fighting between former rebels and gunmen from the Toubou group erupted in the city of Sabha three days ago, reportedly after a militiaman was killed in a dispute over a car, according to the BBC.
Ahmed al-Hamrouni, a former rebel commander in the city, said machine-guns and rockets were being fire in Sabha’s main streets, and that smoke could be seen rising from the airport.
An Interior Ministry official told Reuters that the army had deployed 300 soldiers stationed in the south of the country to the city to try and calm the situation, while another 300 soldiers left Tripoli on Tuesday to assist them.
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Mousa al-Koni, a Toubou representative on the NTC, said an attempt by Toubou fighters to steal a car from a member of the Sahba militia had sparked the fighting, and that a reconciliation committee was being established to halt the violence.
But Toubou chief Abdel Majid Mansur told the Agence France Presse that Libya’s government wanted to “ethnically cleanse” his people, and warned that the tribe might mount a separatist bid:
“We announce the reactivation of the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya [TFSL, an opposition group active under the former regime] to protect the Toubou people from ethnic cleansing,” he said.
“If necessary, we will demand international intervention and work towards the creation of a state, as in South Sudan.”
Mansur accused the Libyan authorities of using warplanes and tanks against Toubou positions in the south of Sabha.
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The NTC is struggling to impose its authority on the whole of Libya following the ousting of Col Muammar Gaddafi last year, and has failed to persuade the various militias who rose up against the long-time dictator to lay down their arms and join the official police and armed forces.
The deputy chairman of the NTC, Sabha native Abdel-Majid Seif al-Nasr, announced his resignation on Tuesday over Tripoli’s inability to quell the violence, according to the Associated Press.
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