Violence in Libya risks escalating and could even derail elections if the interim government fails to impose its authority by disarming militias and strengthening the judiciary, analysts say. In the southern desert cities of Sabha and Kufra, clashes pitting Arabs against non-Arab tribesmen have cost more than 250 lives since February, according to an AFP tally based on official estimates. Inter-communal fighting in Libya’s west last week left at least 20 people dead and hundreds wounded before the government secured a ceasefire with the help of the nascent army and revolutionary brigades. The unrest coupled with calls for autonomy in the east has raised concerns over the ruling National Transitional Council’s grip on power in the country where decades of dictatorship left an institutional void.
It has also put into question the NTC’s ability to conduct elections for a constituent assembly which are scheduled for June. “Clashes will escalate and may well become more frequent simply because there is no effective central authority,” predicts George Joffe, co-editor of The Journal of North African Studies. There are many possible triggers: ambitions for autonomy in the east, resentment against individuals or groups which allegedly collaborated with the former regime, racial tensions, and the desire to hang on to power, Joffe said. Tribal clashes, he told AFP, “could easily derail Libya’s transition to democracy simply by preventing the organisation of an effective poll.”