BBC News – Libya clashes between rival militias in Benghazi

Libyan rebels on the outskirts of Ajdabiya - 22 March 2014 Rebels groups have clashed frequently since they ousted Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 civil war

Fierce clashes between rival Libyan rebel groups in the coastal city of Benghazi have killed several people.

The BBC’s Rana Jawad says the fighting is understood to be between Islamist militias and a paramilitary force led by a retired senior officer.

Libya’s second largest city is the scene of frequent clashes between the army and Islamist militias.

Authorities in the capital Tripoli have struggled to deal with rebels since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that an Islamist militia base in Benghazi was bombed by warplanes.

The death toll is unclear but medical sources in the city said at least four people had been killed and several more injured.

Acting Prime Minister al-Thinni speaking at a press conference in Tripoli - 16 May 2014Prime Minister al-Thinni insisted that the government in Tripoli had not ordered the attack

The force that carried out the attack is under the command of former Libyan army colonel Khalifa Haftar.

Local reports suggested that Mr Haftar’s fighters were backed by the army’s special forces and helicopters.

But speaking at a press conference in Tripoli, acting Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni condemned the operation as illegal and an attempted coup.

“We have given orders to intercept any force trying to enter Benghazi because they don’t have legitimacy from the state,” Mr al-Thinni said.

‘Flushing out terrorists’

Mr Haftar, who was in charge of rebel forces during the 2011 uprising, heads a group called the “National Army”.

A spokesman for the group said it had launched “a large-scale operation to flush terrorists out of Benghazi.”

Mr Haftar stirred rumours of a coup in February after appearing in military uniform to call for a presidential committee to be formed to govern until new elections.

Tripoli’s government said he had no authority and threatened legal action against him.

Former Libyan army colonel Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi - 28 February 2014Mr Haftar has previously claimed to speak for the “general command of the Libyan army”

Our correspondent says an uneasy calm has now returned to Benghazi but local residents are wary that the fighting is a sign that the regular clashes are escalating.

Libya has a complex web of militias, and some are loosely aligned to the army.

But the country’s armed forces are largely split by region and city and correspondents say they rarely take orders from the central authorities.

In a further sign of the country’s instability, Algeria closed its embassy and consulate in Tripoli on Friday, saying its diplomats faced a real and imminent threat.

Earlier this week, Jordan’s ambassador to Libya was freed after being abducted by gunmen in Tripoli last month.

16 May 2014 | 5:48 pm – Source: bbc.co.uk
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