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Military zone declared in Libya

June 17, 2012

The National Transitional Council has ordered the military to use "all means necessary" to end clashes in Libya's west. Tripoli also called for the creation of humanitarian corridors and a fact-finding mission.

A man walks near the mosque in Zintan, western Libya.
Image: AP

Libya's transitional government on Saturday declared the west of the vast north-African country a military zone, deploying troops to impose a ceasefire on rival groups that have engaged in lethal clashes over the past six days.

The clashes between fighters from the town of Zintan and members of the El-Mashashia tribe have killed 14 people and wounded another 89 this week, the interim government reported on Wednesday. Last December, fighting between the two groups killed four people.

The tensions stem from the 2011 uprising that toppled former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was shot dead by rebels in October. While fighters in Zintan helped liberate Tripoli and captured Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam, the El-Mashashia tribe chose not to join the rebellion.

"As a result of the violence in the areas of Mizdah, Sheguiga and Zintan which has killed innocent people, the interim government... orders all parties to immediately stop their fire," Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib's office said in a release.

"To reinforce this, the government has ordered the army chief and the interior ministry to consider the area of clashes a military zone and to use force and all means necessary to stop any shooting against innocent civilians."

A small protests where people wave signs, one of which roughly translates as: "The government is ignoring the rights of the Al Mashashia"
The Mashashia tribe accuses Zintan fighters of shelling their villageImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Weak central control

It remains unclear what exactly triggered the current round of violence, but sources cited by the news agency AFP said that the clashes erupted when a Zintan resident was killed by Mashashia tribesman at a roadblock . The tribesmen, meanwhile, accuse Zintan fighters of shelling their village, Sheguiga, with tank and rocket fire.

The ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) has called for safe passages to be established, in order to facilitate the evacuation of the wounded and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region. It also commissioned a fact-finding mission to investigate the roots of the current conflict.

The NTC has been unable to exert control over all of Libya, a country almost five times larger than Germany but with a population of just under seven million people. Tribal and regional rivalries have plagued Libya since the fall of Gadhafi's totalitarian regime.

Libya is set to hold its first parliamentary elections on July 7. The polls were originally scheduled for June 19, but had to be postponed due to delays in voter registration and appeals by candidates barred from participating.

slk/msh (AFP, Reuters)