Libya army to intervene in southeast clashes
Tripoli - Libyan government forces will intervene if clashes between rival tribes over control of territory in the south-eastern corner of the country do not stop, the military chief said on Monday.
Clashes broke out about 10 days ago in the city of Al Kufra and have continued since, highlighting the challenge of policing the sparsely populated desert. Dozens of people have been killed, the tribes have said.
The violence comes as Libya's ruling National Transitional Council is struggling to assert its authority across Libya as rival militias and tribal groups jostle for power and resources following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Gunmen from the Zwai tribe have clashed with fighters from the Tibu ethnic group led by Isa Abdel Majid, whom they accuse of attacking Al Kufra backed by mercenaries from Chad, according to a security official from the Zwai tribe. The Tibu, however, said they were the ones to come under attack.
Speaking to Reuters, armed forces chief Yousef al-Mangoush said an agreement between the two sides had been reached on Sunday, but further "more intense" clashes took place on Monday. He reported injuries, but did not give a figure.
"The Defence Ministry and the army are warning that if the fighting does not stop, there will be decisive military intervention to put an end to the clashes," he said.
He added military forces were in the area but so far had not intervened. He denied there was any foreign presence there and said the problems between the two tribes stemmed from the past and reconciliation was needed.
Hub for smugglers
In a text message to Reuters, Adelbari Idriss, a security official from the Zwai tribe, said a "large number" of people were leaving Al Kufra for other towns. He said the Zwai had stopped four cars carrying Chadian men.
It was not immediately possible to independently verify his comments nor contact officials from the Tibu side.
Asked about the report of families leaving Kufra, al-Mangoush said: "Yes, when there are clashes, civilians are afraid and leave their homes."
The Tibu are mainly found in Chad but also inhabit parts of southern Libya, Sudan and Niger, often criss-crossing unmarked desert borders. Abdel Majid's men supported the Libyan rebels during the 2011 uprising that ousted Gaddafi.
In Al Kufra, tribal ties are far more powerful than they are on the country's Mediterranean seaboard. A tribal rebellion in 2009 was suppressed only after Gaddafi sent in helicopter gunships. The remote region is also a hub for smugglers taking advantage of the lawless borders of sub-Saharan Africa.
The province surrounding Al Kufra is Libya's largest and borders Sudan and Chad.