HomeNewsRockets fired in clash between rival Libya militias

Rockets fired in clash between rival Libya militias

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ZUWARA, Libya – Fighters near the western Libyan town of Zuwara were firing rockets and large-calibre weapons on Wednesday, Reuters reporters at the scene said, in the fourth day of a conflict between rival militias.

The fighting has exposed how volatile Libya remains, six months after a revolt last year ended Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, and how the new leadership is struggling to impose its authority on the country.

Local people told a Reuters team which entered Zuwara, about 120 km (75 miles) west of the capital, that the fighting was less intense than a day earlier. The Libyan government said on Tuesday 14 people had been killed and hundreds wounded.

But in the distance, the sound of Russian-made Grad rockets could be heard occasionally, as well as reports from rifles and anti-aircraft guns which the fighters have adapted to fire at targets on the ground.

Officials in the capital, Tripoli, said they were sending a force to restore order in Zuwara. Local people said some of that force had arrived, but the only visible sign of a government security presence was an air force plane flying over the town.

“It’s quietened down but we don’t know what will happen,” said Younis Elfounes, a surgeon at Zuwara hospital. “It (the fighting) was all day yesterday, from 8 in the morning until late at night,” he said.

He said over the past few days his hospital had treated 125 people injured in the fighting, and recorded eight deaths. Other casualties were treated elsewhere.

“As a doctor, and from what I can see from the patients coming in, it’s been intense,” Elfounes said of the fighting.

The fighting was between militias from Zuwara and rival fighters from the settlements of Al-Jumail and Regdalin, a short distance to the south.

Zuwara’s population is made up largely of members of the Berber ethnic group, and they opposed Gaddafi during last year’s rebellion. Their neighbours to the south are mainly Arabs who had been loyal to Gaddafi.

“Today is relatively calm but there is no ceasefire,” said Ismail Iftiss, a Zuwara field commander whose unit was close to the frontline southwest of the town. Sporadic shooting could be heard as he spoke.

“Maybe it is the calm before the storm,” he said.

The fighting around Zuwara, on the Mediterranean coast near the border with Tunisia, is typical of the kind of tribal and ethnic conflicts that have flared up since Gaddafi’s fall.

In most cases the violence is the result of a toxic mix of vendettas that have been simmering for generations, the huge quantity of weapons in circulation since the revolt, and the lack of a strong central authority.

An Interior Ministry official told Reuters the confrontation had started on Sunday when a group of Zuwara men hunting for game accidentally shot someone from Al-Jumail. They were briefly detained, angering people in Zuwara.

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.

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