Scores of civilians have been killed in tribal warfare in a remote region of southern Libya, witnesses said on Tuesday.
Moussa Bazama, an ambulance worker driving north taking the injured for treatment, said 50 people had been killed by the rockets, mortars and gunfire rocking residential areas in the desert town of Kufra.
Lines of trucks and cars carrying hundreds of families were streaming out of Kufra on the highway leading toward the populated areas of the coast, about 800km away.
“The situation is extremely bad,” said Abdel-Rehim al-Shewih, an engineer in Kufra contacted by telephone. “It is about who kills the most every day.”
He said that shops were closed, no one could walk in the street and if one tribe takes over one square, the other opens fire and drives it out.
For more than a week, the powerful Arab tribe of al-Zwia has clashed with the African Tabu tribe near Kufra, a border area where Libya, Chad and Sudan meet.
The two groups are old rivals. The Tabu had long complained of discrimination under former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Since Feb. 11, the fight has descended into an all-out confrontation with other smaller Arab tribes joining al-Zwia against the Tabu, residents of the area say.
On Tuesday, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the leader of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), said that Qaddafi loyalists were “seeding sedition” in Kufra, but he declined to elaborate on which of the tribes are connected to the former regime.
Salem Samadi, who heads a revolutionary militia and has tried to mediate a truce between the two sides, blamed the outbreak of violence on a fight over smuggling.
He said the NTC appointed a leading member of the Tabu, named Eissa Abdel-Majed, to combat illegal trafficking.
Six Tabu tried to stop and search a smuggler from the al-Zwia, he said. The smuggler shot at them, killing five members of the rival tribe. The Tabu chased the smuggler, killing him inside a shop, Samadi added.
The fighting spread from there, he said, speaking by telephone from an area near Kufra last week.
Abdel-Jalil said that al-Zwia have taken control of the airport, preventing the injured Tabu from being transferred to northern cities to be treated.
Members of the al-Zwia for their part accuse the Tabu of trying to get control of the city by recruiting forces from Chad, setting up a training camp and taking over the security headquarters last week.
“We discovered they are forming an army to invade the city, and they are receiving thousands of fighters and weapons,” pharmacist Taher Bin Taher said.
He said there is no electricity, water or fuel in the town.
Al-Shewih. who is from the al-Zwia, said that his tribe fears that the Tabu is planning to “wipe out” his tribe and establish a separate state.
“People are saying the Tabu want to take over, but no one knows the truth,” he said.