According to residents and local media in the southern city of Sabha, the violence erupted between two tribes after three young men turned a pet monkey loose on a schoolgirl.
The animal pulled off one of the girls’ headscarves, prompting men from the Awlad Suleiman tribe to retaliate by killing three people from the Gaddadfa tribe as well as the monkey, according to a resident who spoke to Reuters.
“There was an escalation on the second and third days with the use of tanks, mortars and other heavy weapons,” the resident said, according to a report covered by Al Alam.
“There are still sporadic clashes and life is completely shut down in the areas where there has been fighting.”
Like other parts of Libya, Sabha has been periodically plagued by conflict since the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi five years ago splintered the country into warring factions.
In the Sabha region, a hub for migrant and arms smuggling in Libya’s often neglected south, militia abuses and the deterioration of living conditions have been especially acute.
The Gaddadfa and the Awlad Suleiman represent the most powerful armed factions in the region.
During the latest clashes, which took place in the city centre, initial attempts by tribal leaders to calm the fighting and arrange a ceasefire so that bodies could be recovered had failed, residents said.
By Sunday, Sabha Medical Centre had received the bodies of 16 people killed in the clashes and some 50 wounded, said a spokesman for the centre.
“There are women and children among the wounded and some foreigners from sub-Saharan African countries among those killed due to indiscriminate shelling,” he said.
The city lies about 660km (410 miles) south of Tripoli.