Seven fighters die as rival militia groups clash in Libya

Leaders try to maintain stability as groups jockey for influence in the new regime

Tripoli

Rival militia groups clashed outside Tripoli yesterday in some of the most sustained violence since the death of former leader Muammar Gaddafi last month.

At least seven fighters have been killed so far in clashes which are taking place around Imaya, a former Gaddafi military base on the road that links Tripoli to the port town of Zawiya, around 30 miles from the capital.

By yesterday afternoon fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) were blocking the highway leading to the town and prohibiting journalists from moving further forward.

The exact cause of the violence remains unclear, but there are reports that members of a tribe called the Wershifanna were skirmishing with fighters from the town of Zawiya. Some say that the Wershifanna had links with the former regime. There have also been rumours that Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, is trying to organise an insurgency against the country's new rulers.

Libya's interim leader, Mustafa Jalil, said yesterday the NTC had established a committee to address the grievances from both sides and that negotiations were taking place.

"There are many accusations from both sides. We don't know how many of the accusations are true," he told reporters in Tripoli, referring to reports, denied by the Wershifanna, that Gaddafi loyalists had attacked NTC fighters around the military base. He told reporters a resolution had been reached. "I want to assure the Libyan people that everything is under control," he said, adding the fighting had been started by young men behaving irresponsibly.

"Some teenagers, they make problems," said Abdul Hamid Khair, commander of the NTC fighters at the roadblock outside Zawiya. "Most of the fighting is because of the young people".

Libya's civil war has left the country awash with weapons and tensions have run high between the multitude of armed groups in the country. Many who fought for the NTC have deeply felt grievances towards those from towns believed to have supported the former regime during the civil war.

Two weeks ago fighting broke out between rival rebel groups in Tripoli's central hospital when fighters from the city of Misrata clashed with a brigade from the town of Zintan.

Libya's incoming prime minister, Abdurrahim El-Keib, has vowed to disarm the country and set up a national army, but has yet to announce a concrete timetable or form a government.

However, with tensions created by the seven-month civil war still running high, as the various groups that made up the opposition to Gaddafi's rule start to jockey for influence in the new regime, political leaders are battling to maintain stability in country.

"Libya is very crazy now," said Mohammed Garish, a shipbroker from the north-western city of Misrata,"anything can happen".

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