TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Rival militias in the southern Libyan city of Sabha have reached a deal to end four days of fighting that killed more than 50 people, marking a fresh attempt by the government to impose order nationwide months after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Representatives from the militias had agreed to a ceasefire on Wednesday but some clashes resumed hours later. Trouble erupted on Sunday when the groups - one comprising fighters from Sabha, the other from the Tibu ethnic group - fell out in a minor dispute over a car, locals there said.
Bereft of a genuine national army, Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) has struggled to persuade the many militias who fought Gaddafi to lay down their arms and join the armed forces and police. A delegation of officials from various government ministries travelled to Sabha to try to reach an agreement between both sides.
“The conflict parties have reached an agreement and it will be signed in the next few hours,” Mohammed al-Harizy, spokesman for the NTC, told a news conference, adding the violence had begun from a dispute over payment for former rebel fighters.
Reading out a statement, Harizy said both sides had agreed the Libyan army would take control of entry points into Sabha including the airport, scene of some of the fighting.
He said the agreement also called for Tibu fighters from outside Sabha to leave the city, adding that a separate NTC delegation was on its way to Sabha.
Government spokesman Nasser al-Manee said on Wednesday that 3,000 soldiers and border guards had been sent to the area.
In Sabha, the scene was much quieter, Sabha fighter Oweidat al-Hifnawi said. “There was an agreement and there is no more fighting,” he said by phone.
Welcoming the ceasefire, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said approximately 50 people were killed and 167 were injured in the fighting. It called on all parties to allow for the treatment and evacuation of all wounded people and ensure the protection of civilians.
“It is critical that the government and all sides take steps to further de-escalate the situation and address the underlying causes of this recent fighting,” Ian Martin, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, said in a statement.
UNSMIL said that in coordination with the Sabha Local Council, Libyan Red Crescent, security forces and tribal leaders, the UN and its partners in Sabha were responding with pre-positioned non-food items to help address urgent humanitarian needs. Additional medical kits have already been deployed to assist with the wounded and more supplies will be dispatched over the coming days, it added.
Last month, dozens of people were killed in clashes between tribes in the far south-eastern province of Al Kufra. Government forces eventually intervened to stop the fighting, in a rare example of the Tripoli government imposing its authority.