Nomads, locals clash in Libya desert

2012-05-16 21:47

Tripoli - Armed nomads clashed with residents of a Libyan town on the border with Algeria on Wednesday, officials said, underlining the insecurity that continues to plague the country one month before elections.

Fighting erupted over control of a checkpoint on the edge of Ghadames on a desert route often used for smuggling, the officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Tensions has been building for days between locals and Tuareg tribesmen - nomads who roam the desert spanning the borders of Libya and its neighbours, said an officer at Ghadames local council.

"One person was killed. They are fighting over control of one of the main entrance gates," resident Abdelgader Haiba said by phone.

A defence ministry official said two people were injured in the fighting in the town about 600km southwest of Tripoli, but he was not aware of any dead.

Libya's interim rulers have struggled to impose their will on the vast country's often fractious tribal groups after last year's uprising against former leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Many Tuaregs backed Gaddafi during the fighting because he supported their rebellion against the governments of Mali and Niger in the 1970s and later allowed them to settle in southern Libya.

The tribe is important to regional security because it has huge influence in the empty desert expanses which are used by drug traffickers and Islamist militants.

Libya is set to hold elections for a national assembly on 19 June, in the first free polls since last year's war.

The vote will allocate power among competing regions and tribes and pave the way for a new constitution.