CAIRO (AP) — The head of Libya's Tabu tribe said Sunday his people will boycott this week's national election if the government does not withdraw its forces and tanks from a southern desert city where deadly clashes have killed dozens.
The violence and calls for an election boycott threaten to tarnish the process of electing a representative assembly that would draw up a new constitution and name a new government. The July 7 vote to elect a 200-member body is the first nationwide vote since the ouster and killing of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi last year.
African Tabu leader Issa Abdel-Majid told The Associated Press by telephone that his tribe will not vote if government troops continue to deploy tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and snipers against Tabu fighters battling a rival Arab tribe in the southeastern city of Kufra. He said dozens of Tabu men, women and children have been killed and homes destroyed in the clashes.
Neither government officials nor groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has in the past helped evacuate wounded from Kufra, could immediately determine the number of people killed in the most recent round of fighting over the past week.
Armed clashes have erupted several times over the past few months, leaving dozens killed and injured, mainly among the Tabu, the original inhabitants of south Libya who were heavily suppressed under Gadhafi, and their rivals, the Arab tribe of Zwia.
Abdel-Majid said his tribe is calling for an international peacekeeping force to be stationed in Kufra, and for Tabu representatives to be given seats in the country's Cabinet.
"If our demands are not met, we are boycotting the elections," he said.
Some leaders in eastern Libya are also calling for an election boycott, pushing for semi-autonomy instead. They called for staying away from the elections unless seats of the elected assembly are equally distributed among different regions.
Eastern Libya suffered neglect under Gadhafi, and the uprising that toppled him started there. Leaders there charge that the situation has not improved enough under the transitional government that replaced his regime.
Abdel-Basit Haroun, one of hundreds of tribal leaders and militia commanders in the east pushing to form a semi-autonomous region, said the government's Libya Deterrence Forces are in Kufra making matters worse.
"They want to create strife so that there is no unity in the east. All of this is planned and plotted," he said.
Haroun is a leading member of the eastern city of Benghazi's security militia that sent forces to try to mediate in Kufra.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Rights group Amnesty International's Libya researcher Diana el-Tahawy said the country's National Transitional Council failed to send a fact-finding mission to Kufra when clashes that killed more than 100 people broke out in February, to determine who was behind the attacks and compensate the victims. Unresolved disputes have boiled over since.
"The NTC is either unwilling or unable to control these various militias," she said.
The Tabu's Abdel-Majid linked the recent bout of violence to "politics" and accused Tripoli's Arab leaders of racism against his African tribe.
"We are surrounded and occupied by tanks and weapons," Abdel-Majid said. "We want the (government) forces out of Kufra."