TRIPOLI-A BIZARRE incident involving a pet monkey and a schoolgirl has been blamed for triggering a tribal war, which has left up to 40 dead and scores injured in southern Libya.
Civil activist Bader al-Daheli told the Associated Press that violence erupted between two rival groups operating in the city of Sabha last Tuesday after the monkey attacked a female high school student.
The uprising that toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi five years ago splintered the country into warring factions, among them the Gaddadfa and the Awlad Suleiman tribes, which jostle for power in Sabha.
The latest bout of violence erupted after a monkey owned by a shopkeeper from the Gaddadfa tribe attacked a group of passing schoolgirls.
The animal is said to have pulled off the girl’s headscarf, inflicting several bites and scratches, after it was set loose by three young men at the shop.
Sabha hospital chief Abdel-Rahman Areish said that a series of revenge attacks over ensuing days killed at least 20 and wounded 50 others.
Sabha Medical Centre spokesman Nasser al-Jehimi told Reuters he estimated the number of injured was closer to 100 and latest reports place the death toll at around 40.
“There are women and children among the wounded and some foreigners from sub-Saharan African countries among those killed due to indiscriminate shelling,” he said.
According to residents, initial attempts by tribal leaders to calm the fighting and arrange a ceasefire so that bodies could be recovered had failed, residents said.
“There was an escalation on the second and third days with the use of tanks, mortars, and other heavy weapons,” one local told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“There are still sporadic clashes and life is completely shut down in the areas where there has been fighting.”
According to AFP, officials have not confirmed the monkey story, which gained traction after local reports were circulated on social media.
Sabha city councillor Salah Badr told AFP that relations between the Awlad Suleiman tribe and the rival Gaddadfa people —from which the despot Gaddafi hailed — had been long been strained.
“A minor incident sparked the (gun) fire,” he said.
Al-Daheli told the Associated Press the tribes were each backed by heavily armed groups.
Sabha is located about 660km south of Tripoli and has been periodically plagued by conflict since the uprising.
The city is a hub for refugee and arms smuggling rife in the country’s poverty-stricken south, which has seen a significant deterioration in living conditions in recent years. – AP