15 dead in Libya's armed clashes

Tribal clashes resurface due to lack of strong leadership

Tribal clashes in western and southern Libya have left at least 15 people dead over the past 48 hours, the state news agency reported Wednesday, as old grievances between Libyan tribes and cities resurface in the absence of strong leadership in post-revolution Libya.

The violence led the country's transitional ruler, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil to appeal to Libyans in a televised speech to lay down their arms and unite before the country's election next month, when Libyans choose a 200-member assembly to form a government and oversee writing of a new constitution.

The election is supposed to be a milestone on the path to democratic rule after the overthrow last year of Moammar Gadhafi's dictatorship of four decades, but chaos and tribal conflicts have badly marred the transition.

"Everyone should stand united behind building a state of institutions, law and justice," Abdul-Jalil said late Tuesday, "to overcome this agony and reach our dream and the dream of all Libyans: free and fair elections which will be a real beginning in the history of Libya."

Abdul-Jalil's appeal is seen as another example of weakness that has plagued the country's leadership since it declared the liberation of Libya in October after toppling Gadhafi. Since then, Abdul-Jalil has called upon armed militias that fought Gadhafi to integrate under a national army and hand in their weapons, but little has been accomplished.

On Wednesday, dozens of Libyans held a protest in the eastern city of Benghazi expressing dismay at the security situation and demanding to dissolve the militia groups and integrate them into the army, according to the Libyan news agency, LANA. They raised banners reading, "yes to security and safety, no to weapons and chaos," the agency said.

The country is awash with weapons seized by citizens-turned-fighters during the uprising from military barracks and compounds. Former rebels and militias frequently engage in armed clashes with rival tribes and armed groups.

In western city of Zintan, home of the rebels who were the first to sweep into the capital of Tripoli in August, dealing the decisive blow to Gadhafi's regime, militiamen have been engaged in gunbattles with a rival tribe called el-Mashisha. That tribe did not join the uprising, and Zintan rebels accuse them of maintaining loyalty to Gadhafi.

According to Nasser al-Manie, the government spokesman, 12 people were killed in the clashes and 89 wounded over the past two days.

Zintan Media Center, speaking for the city's military council, said on its Facebook page on Tuesday that the rival tribe was the one that shot dead a Zintan fighter on his way with a militia force to the southern city of Sabha.

In Sabha, deep in the southern desert, a security patrol came under fire, leaving two dead and 10 injured. In the desert city of Kufra, near Libyan borders with Chad and Sudan, violence flared anew, leaving one dead and dozens injured, according to the agency.

Armed clashes have erupted several times over the past few months, leaving dozens killed and injured, mainly from the African tribe of Tabu, the original inhabitants of south Libya who were heavily suppressed under Gadhafi, and their rivals, the Arab tribe of Zwia.

Libya's transitional council sent a militia force to separate the two, but they came under fire as well.

Along with tribal clashes, small attacks have targeted international and Western embassies in Misrata and Benghazi over the past few days. A group calling itself the "Brigade of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman" issued a statement claiming responsibility for two attacks against U.S. consulate in Benghazi and Red Cross offices in Misrata.

Meanwhile, Libya is embroiled in a conflict with the International Criminal Court over who should try deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam.

On Wednesday, Libya's government spokesman said an initial investigation of a four-member ICC team showed they committed a "security breach." He said a delegation from the ICC has been dispatched to Tripoli to visit the team.

Libya's prosecutor ruled that the team should be held for 45 days. The ICC demands their release. The team is accused of passing documents and trying to smuggle devices to Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, held by a militia in Zintan.

 

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