Libya said it will strike back if diehards of slain dictator Muammar Qaddafi were behind deadly clashes in his former bastion of Bani Walid where confusion ruled Tuesday as to who was behind the unrest.
Five people were killed and several wounded on Monday when gun fights erupted in the town which local officials said began with an attack by supporters of Qaddafi against a base of former rebels.
Those claims were strongly denied by Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali late Monday and an AFP correspondent who visited the town that day said it was unclear who controlled it.
On Tuesday, Abdelali said the reasons for the violence still remained unclear, but added that Libyan forces were ready to strike back if the unrest was indeed triggered by Qaddafi’s men in Bani Walid, a town 170 kilometers (110 miles) southeast of Tripoli.
“We do not want to rush,” Abdelali told a news conference in Tripoli Tuesday.
But if the trouble in Bani Walid was due to “remnants of the former regime for political reasons,” then the authorities “are capable of striking anyone who dares to harm the security of Libya”, he said.
Abdelali said he was still waiting for more information to “assess what really happened and find solutions to the crisis,” adding that some reports spoke of a tribal conflict in the town while others blamed Qaddafi loyalists.
“The two ministries (of defense and interior) are capable of taking all necessary steps to maintain security. We are ready,” he added.
Abdelali’s remarks came after the interim government met earlier Tuesday to discuss the deadly clashes even as other sources said calm had returned to the town on Tuesday.
On Monday, Abdelali had said the clashes erupted due to “internal problems” in Bani Walid.
He told Libyan television that the fighting was linked to “the issue of compensation for those affected by last year’s war.”
“The information we have from inside the city does not say that there are green flags (hoisted on town buildings) and there is nothing in relation to the former regime,” referring to claims made by several other local officials.
Colonel Salem al-Ouaer, a tribal leader from Bani Walid told AFP Tuesday that calm was returning to the town.
“The situation is under control and calm is returning” to the town, he said.
Ouaer said that representatives of local tribes were holding a meeting to discuss the issue outside Bani Walid with a delegation of tribes from the nearby towns of Zintan and Sabratha.
“What happened yesterday was purely a local conflict,” Ouaer said, indicating that the firefight was not caused by supporters of Qaddafi as claimed by other officials on Monday.
He said passage was also secured for those holed up in the former rebel base that was surrounded Monday by what officials claimed were supporters of Qaddafi.
Ouaer said he was in touch with the chief of the ruling National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and Defense Minister Osama Juili to “update them of the situation in Bani Walid.”
Bani Walid was one of the last pro-Qaddafi bastions to fall in the bloody uprising against Qaddafi.
Its capture was followed days later by the fall of his hometown Sirte in a battle which also led to Qaddafi’s killing and marked the “liberation” of Libya.
Monday’s firefight follows an outburst of opposition to the NTC in the eastern city of Benghazi last week that prompted council chairman Jalil to warn of possible “civil war” in post-conflict Libya.