TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Six days of tribal clashes in a remote desert town in southern Libya have killed 147 people, the country’s health minister said Saturday.
Fatma al-Hamroush said in a press conference in Tripoli that the fighting in Sabha has also left 395 wounded. Around 180 people have been transported to the capital Tripoli for emergency treatment, she said.
The clashes in the oasis region some 400 miles (650 kilometers) south of Tripoli show the fragile authority of the Libyan government, particularly in the isolated settlements that dot the southern desert.
With only a nascent national army and police force, Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council relies on militias comprised of former rebels to keep the peace, and the country’s vast distances makes it difficult to deploy them to trouble spots.
Deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s 40 years in power moreover left behind a patchwork of local rivalries. The Sabha fighting pits southern Libyan Arab tribes that reportedly had close connections to Gadhafi against the African Tabu tribe, which fought against him.
Residents of the oasis say that the rivalry burst into open conflict Monday after a Tabu shot a member of the Arab Abu Seif tribe, and then a delegation of Tabu elders and armed men going to participate in reconciliation talks was ambushed.
The Tabu and Arab tribes fought in another oasis region, Kufra, in February.
Libya’s Tabu also have kinsmen living across the border in Chad, and the defense ministry said Saturday that it sent a number of militiamen and national army soldiers to the country’s southern border in case other African tribes try to join the fight. It also dispatched airplanes to survey the area.
Other militiamen as well as tribal chiefs from around Libya were dispatched to Sabha over the past few days. On Thursday they said they brokered a cease-fire that residents say has held in the city, but not outside.
Tabu tribal spokesman Mohammed Lino said that fighting continues just south of Sabha. He said he traveled to Tripoli on Saturday to meet with a number of Cabinet ministers to try and resolve the crisis. He said some 70 Tabu homes were burnt and 100 families were forced to flee the city during the past week of violence.
Other Tabu leaders, frustrated with the slow pace of government action, say that Tripoli’s leaders have not protected them against attacks from Arab tribes in Sabha.
The government said it is trying to move relief supplies to the area. Health Minister al-Hamroush said that Tripoli has sent large amounts of emergency aid to the city, but that there is still an urgent need for medical supplies.
A U.N. team in Libya says they have also assisted with aid, including additional medical kits.