JALO, Libya (AP) — Scores of civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours in tribal warfare in southern Libya, witnesses said on Tuesday.
Moussa Bazama, an ambulance worker driving north taking injured to the coast, said 50 people had been killed by the rockets, mortars and gunfire rocking residential areas in the desert town of Kufra. Hundreds of families are fleeing toward northern cities.
Phone and other communications to the remote region, hundreds of miles (kilometers) from Libya's main population centers on the coast, are sporadic.
For more than a week, the powerful Arab tribe of al-Zwia has clashed with the African Tabu tribe near Kufra, a border area where Libya, Chad and Sudan meet. The region is a hub for the smuggling of African migrants, goods and drugs.
The two groups are old rivals. The Tabu had long complained of discrimination under former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Since Feb. 11, the fight has descended into an all-out confrontation with other smaller Arab tribes joining al-Zwia against the Tabu, residents of the area say.
On Tuesday, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the leader of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council said that Gadhafi's regime loyalists are "seeding sedition" in Kufra but declined to elaborate on which of the tribes are connected to the former regime.
NTC leaders often blame problems in post-revolutionary Libya on remnants of Gadhafi's regime, usually without proof.
Salem Samadi, who heads a revolutionary militia and has tried to mediate a truce between the two sides, blamed the outbreak of violence on a fight over smuggling.
He said the NTC appointed a leading member of the Tabu named Eissa Abdel-Majed to combat illegal trafficking.
Six Tabu tried to stop and search a smuggler from the al-Zwia, he said. The smuggler shot at them, killing five of members of the rival tribe. The Tabu chased the smuggler, killing him inside a shop, Samadi added.
The fighting spread from there, he said, speaking by phone from an area near Kufra last week.
Abdel-Jalil said that al-Zwia have taken control of the airport, preventing the injured from Tabu to be transferred to the northern cities to be treated.
Members of the al-Zwia for their part accused the Tabu of trying to get control of the city by recruiting forces from Chad, setting up a training camp, and taking over security headquarters last week.
"We discovered they are forming an army to invade the city, and they are receiving thousands of fighters and weapons," said pharmacist Taher Bin Taher,
He said there is no electricity, water or fuel in the town.
Libya's defense ministry said on several occasions that it sent troops to stop the clashes, but witnesses said that those forces have not intervened to stop the war.