Turbulence in the south is threatening the stability of Libya

The Economist reports: delegation of the National Transitional Council, Libya’s ruling authority, was all smiles as it flew back to Tripoli, the capital, after a day in Kufra, a trading post deep in the Sahara desert some 1,700km (1,056 miles) to the south. There tribal feuding in the past two months has left scores dead. The councillors were congratulating themselves for persuading tribal leaders to accept a ceasefire, to recognise the authority of the council in Tripoli, and to promise to uphold Libya’s unity. But no sooner had the jet that once belonged to the late Colonel Muammar Qaddafi taken off than fighting flared there again.

Since the dictator was ousted after 42 years in power, the national council has been struggling to assert its authority, which is meant to encompass the 6,000km of borders that make Libya Africa’s fourth-largest country by area. In the centre and south of the country, Berbers and black Africans have been battling with Arab tribes for control of the towns and outposts, along with their smuggling routes. Libya’s hinterland, from Zwara near the Tunisian border in the north-west to Kufra, which abuts Egypt and Sudan in the south-east, is awash with weapons looted from the colonel’s armouries.

Local identities and loyalties, long suppressed under the colonel’s rule, have re-emerged with a vengeance. Militias from the coast have arrived in the south to bolster hard-pressed Arab tribes. Sub-Saharan Africans have arrived from the other direction to reinforce the black Toubou tribes of southern Libya. Gun-running has fostered uprisings by the Tuareg (akin to Berbers) fighting for their homeland in Mali. Chad and Niger have also got caught in the post-Qaddafi backlash. Even Tunisia and Egypt have been peripherally affected.

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