Middle East

Libya army retakes air base from Gadhafi loyalists

A general view of the Sirte Oil Company in Brega October 20, 2013. For Libyan militia leader Ibrahim al-Jathran, shutting down half the country's oil production with an armed militia is not a crime, it is the start of a just battle for a fair share of country's petroleum wealth. REUTERS/Esam Omran al-Fetori

TRIPOLI: Libyan troops on Wednesday retook a southern air base captured by loyalists of the slain dictator Moammar Gadhafi who had occupied it for two weeks, a military official told AFP.

The army and former rebels succeeded in capturing the Tamenhant air base, in the suburbs of the main southern city of Sebha, military spokesman Colonel Ali al-Chikhi said.

"The units are in the process of securing the base, which has an area of 15 square kilometres (six square miles) and tracking down supporters of the old regime," he said.

Two people were killed and six wounded in the fighting, a medic at Sebha hospital said.

Fighting first erupted in Sebha on January 11 between the Awled Sleiman, an Arab tribe, and members of the Toubou ethnic minority, which has long complained of neglect by authorities in Tripoli.

Since then at least 107 people have been killed and 154 wounded, the hospital official said.

Supporters of Moamer Gadhafi -- who was overthrown and killed in a 2011 uprising after ruling Libya for more than four decades -- exploited the chaos and took over several parts of the city, including the air base, officials said.

City council head Ayub al-Zarruk said a "tense calm" prevailed in Sebha on Wednesday, but that few people were venturing out because of fuel shortages and most shops remained closed.

Sporadic gunfire broke out as troops pursued Gadhafi loyalists, Sebha Operations Centre spokesman Al-Ferjani Akila told AFP, adding that "government forces have deployed in large numbers in different areas."

Authorities have struggled to bring order to Libya in the three years since the uprising, as many powerful rebel brigades have refused to give up their arms or join the security forces.

Earlier on Wednesday the interior minister escaped unscathed when gunmen opened fire on his car in an apparent assassination attempt in Tripoli.





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