Militias have become a problem within the Libyan capital as they refuse to relinquish their weapons [AFP]

Rival militias in an area south-west of the Libyan capital have exchanged heavy gunfire after a dispute flared up between them, killing at least four people, say local residents.

They said the latest flare-up began when El-Mashasha fighters killed a militia commander from Zintan on Sunday as his convoy tried to pass through a nearby town.

Journalists for the Reuters news agency in Wamis, about 190km from Tripoli, said on Monday the fighting was between members of the El-Mashasha tribe, based around the town, and fighters from the larger town of Zintan in the mountains to the north.

Shots, including from machine guns, could be heard and all men and boys in Wamis were carrying AK-47 rifles, the journalists said.

They were shown a school and a mosque which had been hit by artillery or rocket fire, and also saw evidence of shells or rockets landing between houses in a residential area.

There is a long-standing rivalry between Zintan and the people of the El-Mashasha tribe. This worsened during the seven-month conflict against the rule of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed in October.

Zintan rose up against Gaddafi while most of the El-Mashasha tribe supported him. Some of the artillery bombardment directed against Zintan during the conflict came from pro-Gaddafi batteries based in areas controlled by the tribe.

Source: Reuters