Fighting broke out today in the Libyan town of Bani Walid, one of the last settlements to stay loyal to the former regime of the late Muammar Qaddafi, according to Libyan defense minister Osama Jweli.
Jweli said he had reports of battles in the center of the town. Jweli, who said pro-government forces were on standby to intervene, said in a telephone interview he couldn’t confirm reports in Tripoli media that the fighting was the result of an uprising by pro-Qaddafi forces.
Tripoli media quoted Bani Walid’s council spokesman, Mahmud Warfelli, as saying pro-Qaddafi units had taken control of most of the town and that the green flag, the banner of the former regime, was flying in the streets.
He was quoted as saying pro-government fighters were holding positions inside an army base that was under attack and four had been killed.
“I have seen the reports of the fighting, but for the moment the situation is unclear,” said Jweli. “There are reports of green flags flying, but I cannot confirm this. It may be internal fighting.”
Residents of the town, which was among the last to fall to rebel forces during the rebellion against Qaddafi, have asked for help to thwart the attack, al Arabiya television reported, citing its correspondent.
Pro-government militia units wouldn’t be sent to intervene in the town, which is 100 miles south-east of Tripoli, until the cause of the fighting was clear, the defense minister said.
Bani Walid held out for several weeks following the fall of Tripoli to rebel forces in late August.
In recent months, there have been regular skirmishes between militias in western Libya, underlining the failure of the ruling National Transitional Council to establish control of all Libya’s fighting forces.
Units from Misrata, home to the largest Libyan militia, which is loyal to Jweli, had taken up positions between the coastal city and Bani Walid today, according to local media reporting.
The National Transitional Council faces protests across Libya over its failure to deliver the promised law governing elections planned for June.
It had originally agreed to make the law public last weekend. An announced delay until January 28 sparked protests in Tripoli and in Benghazi, the council’s seat of power.
Protesters yesterday occupied the council’s Benghazi headquarters, accusing the government of failing to make its deliberations public, and hours later council deputy leader Abdul Hafez Ghoga resigned.