TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — A Libyan tribe threatened Wednesday to declare a separate state in Libya's south after days of bloody battles with a rival tribe, the second such move toward secession this month.
The breakaway threats are the latest evidence of turmoil after the fall of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi's autocratic regime last year. One sign is the resurfacing of old grievances and tribal conflicts Gadhafi suppressed.
Tribal leaders in eastern Libya announced earlier that they were considering forming an autonomous state, called Barqa, over almost half of the country. The state would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital in Benghazi, the country's second largest city.
That was seen as expressing frustration with decades of neglect by Gadhafi and the inability of the new government, the National Transitional Council, to improve the situation. Though Benghazi leaders deny it was their intention, critics warned of the possibility of Libya's breaking up into at least two parts.
On Wednesday, tribesmen in the south, echoing some of the same complaints, also threatened to split from Libya's central government in Tripoli.
The conflict there is between the African Tabu tribe and Arab tribes in south Libya, including the Abu Seif tribe in the city of Sabha and Zwiya in Kufra, near the border with Chad.
Fighting between Tabu and Abu Seif tribes in the past three days has left more than 50 dead in Sabha. Fighters fired mortars, automatic rifles and rockets with a range of 10 kilometers (six miles). The tribes were fighting in the city's main streets, and the central government in Tripoli failed to intervene effectively.
Tabu leaders said that they would declare their own state to protect their people. The Tabu, along with other African tribes, were the original inhabitants of south Libya. The Tabu were heavily suppressed under Gadhafi.
Eissa Abdul-Maged, a Tabu leader, said Wednesday his tribe is subjected to "genocide," but the Libyan government in Tripoli has not intervened.
"We are being massacred right in front of the NTC's eyes," he told The Associated Press. He said a village in Kufra, close to Libya's border with Chad, was "burned to the ground," and fighter jets pounded civilians. Al-Warfali said that Abu Seif forces used fighter planes to attack Tabu military bases.
"This is a genocide," he charged.
A Paris-based Tabu official, Jomode Elie Getty, who was an official with the NTC but resigned on Tuesday, accused the NTC of siding with Arabs in attacks on Tabu tribesmen. He called for U.N. intervention.
Underlining the volatility of the situation, a leader of the Zwiya tribe, Mohammed al-Zwiya, said that his tribe would fight anyone who calls for dividing Libya into separate states.
Last month, similar tribal strife erupted between Tabu and Zwiya, leaving scores dead and injured.