Rival militias exchange fire in western Libya


Rival militias fought skirmishes in western Libya with one local fighter saying his town was coming under fire from mortars and anti-aircraft guns.

There were though no reports of anyone killed or seriously wounded in the clashes, which were happening around the town of Zuwara, on the Mediterranean coast about 120 km (75 miles) west of the capital, Tripoli.

The fighting was the latest in a series of incidents that have underlined Libya’s volatility since a revolt last year ended Muammar Gaddafi’s rule. In another confrontation, about 150 people were killed in clashes between rival tribes in the southern city of Sabha, Reuters reports.

Local people said the clashes around Zuwara were between fighters inside the town, populated mainly by members of the Berber ethnic minority, and militias from the mainly Arab settlements nearby of Al-Jumail and Regdalin.
“There are still some clashes,” Iyoub Sofian, from the Zuwara local council, told Reuters by telephone. “In the past 20 minutes we’ve been hit by about 14 mortars and some anti-aircraft fire from Al-Jumail and Regdalin.”

An official in the Libyan government’s supreme security committee confirmed to Reuters that there were clashes, but gave no details. It was not immediately possible to reach anyone in the Arab settlements around Zuwara.

Like most of the violent confrontations that erupt in Libya, the clashes started off as a small incident which – with no proper security force to keep order and with an abundance of weapons in circulation – quickly escalated.

An Interior Ministry official told Reuters a group of Zuwara men were out hunting for game when they accidentally shot someone from Al-Jumail.

The hunting party was arrested on Sunday and then released a few hours later. However, the men who were set free showed signs of having been tortured while in detention, according to Sofian, angering people in Zuwara and sparking the fighting.

Zuawara lies on the main highway linking Tripoli to neighbouring Tunisia. Tunisian security forces told Reuters the Ras Jdir border crossing, about 60 km west of Zuwara, was operating as normal on Monday.