Tripoli – Gunmen linked to eastern Libya-based military chief Khalifa Haftar exchanged artillery and small arms fire overnight with forces in the main southern city of Sebha, authorities and Libyan media said on Tuesday.
The clashes come a week before the war-torn North African country is due to hold a presidential election that observers fear could trigger a return to conflict after a year-long ceasefire.
“A militia armed with heavy weaponry and armoured vehicles… stole 11 four-wheel-drive vehicles from Sebha in an armed robbery,” Sebha’s police force said.
It identified the attackers as members of a group commanded by Mabruk Sahban and affiliated with Haftar, who is a candidate in the December 24 polls and whose forces control much of Libya’s south.
The stolen vehicles had been sent to Sabha by the interior ministry in Tripoli to help secure the election, the police statement said.
Sahban’s forces had attacked a police convoy and forced officers to drive the vehicles to Brak airbase, south of Sebha, it added.
Sebha security forces and pro-Haftar gunmen later clashed in central Sabha, local media reported.
Footage online apparently showed night-time clashes with small arms in the city centre.
There was no immediate report of casualties.
The Sebha police department said the attack aimed to destabilise the country’s southern provinces.
Haftar had in 2019 seized much of southern Libya including oil infrastructure, military sites and the southwestern city of Sebha, before launching a blistering assault on capital Tripoli, 650 kilometres (400 miles) to the north.
Western Libyan forces pushed him back to his eastern stronghold a year later, but he retained an armed presence in the south.
A ceasefire formally signed in October 2020 paved the way for a UN-led political process to bring in an interim unity government tasked with leading Libya until the elections — in which Haftar is a candidate.
Libya has been attempting to extract itself from a decade of conflict since the 2011 revolt that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
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