TRIPOLI, Libya — A senior Libyan government official said Friday that warring tribes in the south have brokered a cease-fire after five days of deadly clashes, but residents said the fighting continues and is inching toward another city.
The conflicting reports from the oasis of Sabha some 640 kilometers (400 miles) south of Tripoli show the isolation of Libya's desert communities, where tribes with a history of rivalry often live side by side.
The fighting in Sabha resembles an earlier outbreak of inter-tribal violence in February in the oasis of Kufra, over 900 kilometers (nearly 600 miles) to the east. In both places, the clashes pitted Arab tribes that reportedly had close connections to ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi against the African Tabu tribe, close to the rebels that overthrew him. In both places, authorities struggled to move troops across the hundreds of kilometers of desert highway to keep the peace.
As of Thursday, five days of fighting in Sabha left more than 50 dead, according to the United Nation Support Mission in Libya, as the tribes exchanged fire with automatic rifles, mortars, and rockets.
Deputy chairman of the governing National Transitional Council Abdel-Majid Seif al-Nasr, a Sabha native, said that a cease-fire was signed Thursday and that the city was now quiet, with hundreds of ex-rebel militia from other cities pouring into the oasis to quell the violence.
Col. Wanees Abu Khamada, the head of a militia force from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, said his team is meeting with tribal leaders from Sabha. He said the city is quieter than before, but that there was fighting on the outskirts.
But Mohammed Lino, a spokesman for fighters of the Tabu, said his tribe was under pressure from attacks and retreating south to its stronghold in the city of Morziq.
"We have agreed on a cease-fire, but they keep breaking the deal," he said, accusing the more powerful tribes in Sabha of attacking Tabu neighborhoods and burning down their homes.
"The government is in Sabha, but they haven't done anything to stop them," Lino said.
Sabha native and senior Health Ministry official Abdul-Rahman al-Hasnawy said four people were killed and more than 40 wounded since the cease-fire was signed Thursday.
The fighting has undermined the new Libyan government's already fragile authority. On Wednesday, the Tabu leaders threatened to declare a separate state in Libya's south to protect their people, the second such move toward secession this month after leaders in the east declared a semiautonomous state.