By Essam Mohamed
Rival tribes in the southern Libyan city of Sabha agreed to a ceasefire Wednesday (March 28th), although continuing clashes were reported on Thursday.
Libyan government spokesman Nasser al-Manaa told reporters late Wednesday that more than 70 people were killed and 130 others were wounded in the conflict, adding that 1,500 troops were dispatched to end the fighting. At least eight more people were killed on Thursday, according to AFP.
The United Nations Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) praised the ceasefire news, urging both sides to solve the conflict through dialogue.
“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,” UNSMIL head Ian Martin said.
The issue began with the killing of a Bussif tribesman accused by the Toubou of stealing a car. The fighting between the rival clans escalated after a mortar strike killed both tribal and local dignitaries gathered to resolve the dispute.
In February, the Toubou clashed with Zwai tribesmen in the south-eastern oasis of Kufra. That conflict cost more than 100 lives and displaced half of the town’s residents.
At his Wednesday press conference, al-Manaa expressed the government’s sorrow for the tragic events that took place in Sabha and urged all parties to exercise self-restraint.
“The new Libya has transparency and doesn’t accept any ambiguity or injustice against anyone,” he said. He denied rumours the defence minister had resigned and urged the people of southern Libya to remain calm, preserve national unity and stop the violence.
Al-Manaa noted that a committee tasked with reconciliation consisting of scholars from across the country was dispatched to meet the parties and convince them to stop fighting.
In response to a question from Magharebia about the creation of the “Toubou Salvation Front” led by Issa Abdul Majid that seeks a separate province for the tribe, al-Manaa said the government did not accept any new provinces.
“Toubous are Libyans and Libya is one and united,” he said. “All Libyans must enjoy equality, and those who have ideas should present them peacefully through dialogue, and rights should be restored to owners.”
Responding to accusations of delayed action by the Tripoli authorities, the spokesman said the interior minister was out of the country and events “took place all of a sudden”.
“Efforts are still underway to transfer the wounded to Tripoli and other cities,” the government spokesman said. He also said medical supplies and ambulances had been sent to the southern oasis.
He noted that “services in the southern region are poor, and this is part of the problem”. Al-Manaa said Libya was “paying the price for the former regime’s policies and a four-month-old government can neither marginalise any area nor be judged”.
For their part, Sabha residents called for calm. Younis Abderrehman expressed his sorrow for the loss of life and called for an investigation to bring those responsible to court in a fair and just trial, noting that after victims were killed and wounded, the issue shouldn’t be left for a social solution, but should be dealt with through the rule of law, justice and equality.
“The disputes can’t be blamed on the Toubou people alone,” commented Sabha resident Ali al-Tabawi. “Murders happen all the time, but they can’t just be of that large scale; something that shows that there are accumulated tensions that can’t be separated from today’s events.”