At least 16 dead after monkey sparks fighting in Libya

Attack on schoolgirls leads to clashes between two tribes in southern city of Sabha.

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TRIPOLI // An attack by a pet monkey has triggered clashes between rival tribes in southern Libya that have left at least 16 people dead and 50 injured.

Fighting broke out in the city of Sabha after a monkey belonging to a shopkeeper from the Gaddadfa tribe attacked a group of schoolgirls who were passing by, according to residents and local reports.

The monkey pulled off one of the girls’ head scarf, leading men from the Awlad Suleiman tribe to retaliate by killing three people from the Gaddadfa tribe as well as the monkey, a resident said.

“There was an escalation on the second and third days with the use of tanks, mortars and other heavy weapons,” the resident said.

“There are still sporadic clashes and life is completely shut down in the areas where there has been fighting.”

City officials could not be reached to confirm the accounts.

Like other parts of Libya, Sabha has been plagued by conflict since the uprising that toppled the dictator Muammar Qaddafi five years ago splintered the country into warring factions.

In the Sabha region, a hub for migrant and arms smuggling in Libya’s often neglected south, militia abuses and the deterioration of living conditions have been especially acute.

The Gaddadfa and the Awlad Suleiman represent the most powerful armed factions in the region.

During the latest clashes, which took place in the city centre, initial attempts by tribal leaders to calm the fighting and arrange a ceasefire so that bodies could be recovered had failed, residents said.

By Sunday, the Sabha Medical Centre had received the bodies of 16 people killed in the clashes and about 50 wounded.

“There are women and children among the wounded and some foreigners from sub-Saharan African countries among those killed due to indiscriminate shelling,” a spokesman for the centre said.

Sabha is about 660 kilometres south of Tripoli.

* Reuters