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Rival Libyan militias clash near military base

Image: Fighters from Zawiya prepare to fire at the front line during clashes with the Warcfana tribe at the entrance of the city
Fighters from Zawiya prepare to fire at the front line during clashes with the Warcfana tribe at the entrance of the city, about 25 miles from Tripoli, on Saturday.Youssef Boudlal / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rival militias clashed on the outskirts of Tripoli for a fourth day Sunday, the most sustained violence since the capture and killing of Moammar Gadhafi last month.

The fighting, which has left at least four people dead since late last week, raised new concerns about the ability of Libya's transitional government to disarm thousands of fighters and restore order after a bloody eight-month civil war.

Libya's interim leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said his National Transitional Council brought together elders from the rival areas — the coastal city of Zawiya and the nearby town of Warshefana — over the weekend and that the dispute has been resolved. "I want to assure the Libyan people that everything is under control," he said Sunday.

However, as he spoke, fighting continued.

On Sunday afternoon, journalists heard gunfire and explosions of rocket-propelled grenades on the outskirts of a major military camp of the ousted regime. The camp, once a base of elite forces commanded by one of Gadhafi's sons, Khamis, is located on a highway midway between the capital of Tripoli and Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the west.

Mohammed al-Hadwash, a local commander of fighters from Tripoli, said gunmen from Zawiya and Warshefana were fighting for control of the camp.

Zawiya fighters also set up roadblocks on the outskirts of the city at intervals of about 200 yards. Groups of jumpy armed men, some brandishing RPGs, crowded around the checkpoints. Fighters searched trunks of cars and checked IDs.

The reason for the initial clash remains unclear, though rumors have been flying, including that some of the Warshefana had links to the old regime. At one point last week, fighters from Zawiya entered Warshefana and seized weapons. In retaliation, Warshefana fighters set up random checkpoints and fired at the main highway.

Abdul-Jalil said the NTC has established a committee to address the grievances of both sides. He said the fighting was sparked by young men behaving irresponsibly, but he did not elaborate.

Since the Oct. 20 death of Gadhafi, there have been a number of violent clashes between fighters, including a deadly shootout at a Tripoli hospital. Residents of the capital have also become increasingly annoyed with fighters from other areas of Libya who have taken over prime locations in the city, including a gated seaside resort village.

Despite the growing tensions, Abdul-Jalil and other NTC leaders have said they cannot disarm the fighters quickly.

Noting high unemployment among the armed men, Abdul-Jalil said the new government must offer alternatives first, including jobs, study and training.