More than 40 people were killed on Thursday in an explosion at an army depot in southern Libya after locals tried to steal ammunition, officials said, while four soldiers died in clashes in the restive eastern part of the country.
The incidents highlighted the turmoil in Libya where the government is trying to restore order in the oil-producing country, which is awash with weapons after the 2011 ouster of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
The blast in Brak al-Chati, near the main southern city of Sabha, happened after a group of 43 locals and Africans went to the army depot to steal ammunition, a security official said.
“More than 40 people were killed,” said Khalifa Alsghair, commander of a border security guard brigade in Brak al-Chati.
A local security official also put the toll at more than 40, but medics at a hospital said the figure was probably too high because they had only received two bodies and four injured.
It was unclear what caused the explosion, which set off a fire.
Libya’s nascent military is struggling to secure army bases and curb Islamist militants, militias and gangs who fought in the uprising against Qaddafi, but who refuse to disarm and still control parts of the country.
The four soldiers were killed in Benghazi as clashes erupted between army special forces and militant Islamists of the Ansar al-Sharia group, officials said.
The trouble started when soldiers stopped a car loaded with weapons, explosives and a large amount of money.
“Three soldiers were killed in clashes with Ansar al-Sharia,” Wanis Bukhmada, commander of the special forces in Benghazi, said at a press conference.
Another soldier was killed by unknown gunmen in the morning in another part of the city, a security source said.
Fighting had initially started on Monday between army special forces and members of the Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city. At least nine people were killed before the Islamists retreated from their main base. Three more soldiers were killed on Wednesday.
Army officials went on nationwide television on Thursday to appeal to the Islamists and other militias to lay down their weapons in Benghazi and start a dialogue.
“Brothers of the Ansar al-Sharia. You are Muslims and we are Muslims. We don’t differ on religion ... but don’t impose something which is not part of the religion,” said Salah Obeidi, army commander of the eastern region.
Most countries have closed their consulates in the city of 1 million inhabitants, home to several oil companies.
Some foreign airlines also have stopped flying there.