Rival militia halt fighting in Libya

2012-04-05 14:04

Zuwara - Rival militia whose clashes in western Libya have killed at least 18 people stopped fighting on Thursday, after the government sent in troops to impose a ceasefire, an army official said.

Reuters reporters in the town of Zuwara said there was no sign of fighting - in marked contrast to the day before when mortars and rockets were kicking up plumes of smoke, and the town hospital was over-flowing with the wounded.

The flare-up in violence tested the ability of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), in charge since a revolt ousted Muammar Gaddafi last year, to impose its authority on the fractious and volatile country.

Amara Ramadan, a defence ministry official, said a contingent from the national army had now moved in, four days after the fighting broke out, to keep the warring sides apart.

"We have been here since last night. We are at the front line to separate the two sides and since last night there has been a ceasefire," he told Reuters in Zuwara.

"We have specific orders to use force in case one side does not respect the ceasefire," he said. "Until now it has been okay."

The fighting, which broke out at the weekend, was between militias in Zuwara, on the Mediterranean coast about 120km west of the capital, and rival fighters in the nearby settlements of Al-Jumail and Regdalin.

Exchanging bodies

Officials were using the break in hostilities on Thursday to exchange the bodies of people killed in the fighting so they could be buried in their own communities.

Bodies were being taken to neutral territory, at the hospital in the nearby town of Sabratha, where they were to be collected by their own side.

Ramadan, the defence ministry official, said that late on Wednesday the bodies of three Zuwara fighters had been sent from Al-Jumail to Sabratha, while Zuwara was also handing over the bodies of three fighters from Regdalin.

The violence has its roots in last year's rebellion against Gaddafi, which in the area around Zuwara, as in many other parts of the country, set one neighbour against another.

Zuwara's population, made up largely of members of the Berber ethnic group, opposed Gaddafi during the revolt. Their neighbours in the nearby settlements are mainly Arabs who had been loyal to Gaddafi.

That created mistrust and resentment which ignited at the weekend when, according to one account, a group of men from Zuwara out hunting for game shot dead a man from Al-Jumail by mistake. The hunters were briefly detained and, say people in Zuwara, mistreated, setting off the violence.

In another confrontation that has underlined Libya's fragility, about 150 people were killed in clashes over the past week between rival tribes in the southern city of Sabha.