TRIPOLI // Two former Libyan rebel factions clashed yesterday in hours of gun battles in central Tripoli that left five fighters dead, a Tripoli military council official said.
Former rebels of Tripoli and a separate group of fighters from the city of Misurata fought with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns. Col Walid Shouaib, a member of Tripoli Military Council, said the clashes were triggered by arrest of a Misurata fighter on New Year's Eve by Tripoli fighters. He was suspected of robbery and the Misurata fighters were trying to free him.
Disparate groups of former revolutionary fighters have clashed repeatedly since the end of the eight-month civil war that toppled Muammar Qaddafi's regime in October. Disbandment of these armed groups, which are divided by the regions where the operate, has posed a challenge to Libyan authorities.
While playing a vital role in overseeing security of key state institutions in the capital, the uncontrolled ownership of weapons and the absence of a central security administration has given the militias a free hand in ruling areas under their control.
According to Col Shouaib, the tensions between the two militias began on the night of the arrest when a group of Misurata fighters tried to free the detained man, but failed. Instead, they were arrested as well. A top Misurata commander managed to mediate the release of all the men except for the one arrested for robbery.
Yesterday, another group of Misurata fighters made a second attempt to free the man. They opened fire on a building in the heart of Tripoli and used by the Tripoli military council. After hours of gun battles, three of Misurata fighters and two from Tripoli armed men were killed, Col Shouaib said.
Witnesses said the Tripoli militia arrested six Misurata men, brought them inside the council building, beat them up and detained them. The Tripoli council is affiliated with the national transitional government.