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LIBYA: Fighting in southeast spreads, report says

November 11, 2008 |  7:06 am

Tripoli

The daily Arab-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat is reporting that the riots and fighting in southeastern Libya that began last week and left at least 11 people dead has spread to the country's second-largest city, Benghazi.

According to the report, which cites opposition groups and anonymous individuals inside Libya, the fighting between the Tabu tribe and security forces that began in the cluster of oasis towns near Kufrah, "is spreading to other nearby cities despite all the security measures the government is imposing."

A group of men engaged in street battles with police in the cities of al-Salmani and al-Majuri in support of Kufrah residents, the Nov. 10 report said.

A letter distributed by an opposition group said that some opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Kadafi are preparing "to launch a series of public demonstrations."

This is all hard to confirm. A report in the Media Line describes the challenge succinctly:

The reports are hard to authenticate because of the closed and secretive nature of the Libyan regime. Reports of the clashes have largely been leaked by bloggers and opposition groups.

Libyan officials have been tight-lipped about events in the heavily policed country. The Reuters news agency on Monday cited an official Libyan newspaper as saying that fighting in Kufrah between the Tabu and Zawiya tribes had left six people dead.

Asharq al-Awsat also cited Libyan news sources as saying that fighting broke out between the two tribes after the Tabu clan hoisted the flag of neighboring country Chad in some locations of Kufrah.

But the explanation of tribal warfare squares somewhat with accounts of opposition figures, who say that authorities have armed local militias to combat the Tabu, which the Libyan government accuses of being loyal to Chad.

Many human-rights advocates have urged the West not to ignore Libya's alleged treatment of its own citizens as it cozies up to the onetime pariah nation. But an analysis published by the North Africa Journal suggests Kadafi is cracking down on the Tabu precisely to please the West:

"Many local tribe leaders have pledged allegiance to Chad and Sudan precisely at the time when Tripoli has been seeking to reassert more influence in the region. The riots were also largely the result of a drastic social and economic environment ... believed to have been engineered by Tripoli to punish them for pledging allegiance to the country's southern neighbors. But Tripoli has also been targeting the region under the pretext of arms smuggling and terrorism support so as to eliminate any complaints from Western governments."

The Asharq al-Awsat report said many were frightened of a harsh crackdown. The newspaper said that telephone lines and cellphone access have been cut off to the area.

“Security measures are being implemented to the fullest on [Kufrah's] borders as we witness the landing of two military planes carrying supplies at the military airport,” one local told the paper.

-- Khaled Hijab and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: A scene from Tripoli, Libya's capital and principal city. Credit: Patrick Andre Perron

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