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147 dead in Libya tribal clashes

Six days of tribal clashes in a remote desert town in southern Libya have left 147 people dead, the country's health minister says.

Fatma al-Hamroush said in Tripoli that the fighting in Sabha has also left 395 wounded. Around 180 people have been transported to the capital for emergency treatment, she added.

The clashes in the oasis region some 400 miles south of Tripoli show the fragile authority of the Libyan government, particularly in the isolated settlements that dot the southern desert.

With only a nascent national army and police force, Libya's ruling National Transitional Council relies on militias comprised of former rebels to keep the peace, and the country's vast distances make it difficult to deploy them to trouble spots.

The late dictator Muammar Gaddafi's 40 years in power left behind a patchwork of local rivalries. The Sabha fighting pits southern Libyan Arab tribes that reportedly had close connections to Gaddafi against the African Tabu tribe, which fought against him.

Residents of the oasis say that the rivalry burst into open conflict last Monday after a Tabu shot a member of the Arab Abu Seif tribe, before a delegation of Tabu elders and armed men going to participate in reconciliation talks was ambushed.

The Tabu and Arab tribes fought in another oasis region, Kufra, in February.

Sabha residents say the two groups exchanged fire with automatic rifles, mortars, and rockets. Tabu tribal spokesman Mohammed Lino said some 70 Tabu homes were burnt and 100 families were forced to flee the city during the past week of violence.

Video posted on YouTube purportedly from Sabha showed men in civilian clothes and camouflage jackets armed with assault rifles moving through a maze of mud and stone-walled alleys, as flames rose from burning cars nearby. The authenticity of the video could not be verified.

Some families from Sabha said they fled the city by foot as bullets whizzed by. Some hit women and children.

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