PARIS (AP) — A personal feud on Monday sparked clashes between tribes of African and Arab origins in southern Libya, leaving five people dead, according to a security official, in the latest sign of chaos in the country.
The vast, mostly barren southern two-thirds of Libya has largely gone its own way since the rebellion that overthrew longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, but now there are concerns that in addition to local tensions, the area might be drawn into larger regional conflicts involving al-Qaida.
The fight between two men from al-Shourafa Arab tribe and Tabu in Zweila town in the southern Fezzan region escalated to clashes between members of the two rival tribes.
Warring factions fired light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at each other.
A number of houses and cars were set ablaze, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.
The African Tabu, the original inhabitants of parts of south Libya, were heavily suppressed under Gadhafi. Successive governments with no unified army or central police force have struggled to impose order.
The situation in southern Libya has been affected by tensions elsewhere in northern Africa.
French troops drove al-Qaida forces out of nearby Mali, and there are concerns that the militants might try to regroup in southern Libya.
On Sunday, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan discussed beefing up security measures in the southern region. He told reporters that the new steps are meant “to prevent the suspected elements from infiltrating.” He said that a team of EU consultants will be sent in cooperation with Libya to increase border security.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the new measures are in response to concerns that Libya’s vast south could become a haven for al-Qaida-linked terror groups.
Fabius told reporters that France was investigating the possibility that south Libya was a staging area for deadly, simultaneous terror attacks in neighboring Niger last week, including one on a French-operated uranium mine.
Jouma Koussiya, a Tabu activist in Libya’s Fezzan region, said tribes in the south are worried about random targeting by suspected militants and accused the Libyan government of reluctance to cooperate with the people in protecting the region.
“If the European Union and the government do not coordinate their intervention in the south with the people here, this might result in disastrous mistakes,” he said. He said the government has already lost touch with the south by sending military commanders from the capital to direct security in the south.
“They know nothing about the region and they ultimately fail,” he said in a telephone interview. “Now tribes are working together to form a unified military council in order to secure the region, instead of the government,” he said.
Since the ouster of the Gadhafi regime, former rebel groups have turned into militias, filling a security vacuum. But at the same time, they have contributed to the state of lawlessness in the country.
On Monday, north eastern city of Tobruk military police confiscated large amounts of land mines and anti-tank explosives, said Hani Imargai of the military police, which runs checkpoints in the city located 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the Egyptian border.