Nov 5, 2012

Libya Militias Battle On Streets Of Tripoli

Rival Libyan militias fired guns and rocket-propelled grenades at each other in Tripoli on Sunday and set fire to a former intelligence building in one of the worst breakdowns in security in the capital since Muammar Gaddafi's fall.

At least five people were wounded and a stray bullet entered a hospital in the heart of the city, where residents rushed to arm themselves, saying calls to police had gone unheeded. After more than 12 hours, the army moved in.

The violence underscored the challenge faced by Libya's first freely-elected government, approved just last week, to rein in militias which gained power during the conflict that ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule a year ago and hold together a country riven with clan, regional and sectarian divisions.

By early afternoon, a building belonging to the Supreme Security Committee (SSC), a body set up last year to try to regulate armed groups, was in flames and being looted by members of a rival militia faction, witnesses said. A sports shop that helps fund one of the militia groups was also looted.

The fight erupted just after midnight after a dispute over the detention of a member of one of the armed groups, residents in the southern district of Sidi Khalifa said. Both militias are affiliated to the SSC, an umbrella group for various armed groups that refused to join the official police or army, saying they were still run by Gaddafi loyalists.

Civilians blocked the street where the fighting raged to prevent cars entering the battleground where the sound of gunfire rang out. Many civilians went home to get their own arms. "We called the police early in the morning to help us stop the shooting, but no one came," resident Khaled Mohamed told Reuters.

A stray bullet caused panic at the nearby Tripoli Central Hospital, sending doctors and nurses running for cover. Dr. Khaled Ben Nour said five casualties had been brought in. "We have real patients with real needs. These rogue militias need to leave us in peace so we can do our jobs," Ben Nour said.

Some fighters said the clash was over the detention of the militia member while others said the SSC headquarters--a former intelligence building--had been occupied by a militia called Support Unit No. 8 led by Mohamed al-Warfali. A group of rival militias--also belonging to the SCC--fired at the building from a former post office.


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