TRIPOLI, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Three people were killed and 25 injured on Tuesday in clashes between rival tribes in the far southeast of Libya, a tribal source said, highlighting the challenge of policing the country’s sparsely populated desert.
Clashes broke out about 10 days ago in the city of Al Kufra and have continued since. Dozens of people have been killed, the tribes have said.
The violence comes as the ruling National Transitional Council is struggling to assert its authority across Libya where rival militias and tribal groups are jostling for power and resources following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Gunmen from the Zwai tribe have clashed with fighters from the Tibu ethnic group led by Isa Abdel Majid, whom they accuse of attacking Al Kufra backed by mercenaries from Chad, according to a security official from the Zwai tribe. The Tibu, however, said they were the ones to come under attack.
“The fighting has stopped now but the situation is very bad. Three people were killed today,” Adelbari Idriss, a security official from the Zwai tribe, said by telephone.
He quoted hospital staff as saying 25 people were injured.
He added that a group of Chadian men had taken over 30 empty houses as well as a separate housing complex after families had fled the city to nearby oases.
It was not immediately possible to independently verify his comments nor contact officials from the Tibu side.
Libyan armed forces chief Yousef al-Mangoush said on Monday military forces would intervene if the clashes did not stop.
He said an agreement between the two sides had been reached on Sunday, but further “more intense” clashes took place after that. He denied there was any foreign presence there and said the problems between the two tribes stemmed from the past and reconciliation was needed.
The Tibu are mainly found in Chad but also inhabit parts of southern Libya, Sudan and Niger, often criss-crossing unmarked desert borders. Abdel Majid’s men supported the Libyan rebels during the 2011 uprising that ousted Gaddafi.
In Al Kufra, tribal ties are far more powerful than they are on the country’s Mediterranean seaboard. A tribal rebellion in 2009 was suppressed only after Gaddafi sent in helicopter gunships. The remote region is also a hub for smugglers taking advantage of the lawless borders of sub-Saharan Africa.
The province surrounding Al Kufra is Libya’s largest and borders Sudan and Chad. (Reporting by Ali Shuaib)