Libyan rebel with anti-aircraft gun 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
DEHIBA, Tunisia - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi crossed into neighboring Tunisia and fought a gun battle with Tunisian troops in a frontier town on Friday as Libya's conflict spilled beyond its borders.
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Pro-Gaddafi forces fired shells into the town of Dehiba, damaging buildings and injuring at least one resident, and a group of them drove into the town in a truck, local people and a Reuters photographer in the town said.
The Libyan government troops were pursuing anti-Gaddafi rebels from the restive Western Mountains region of Libya who fled into Tunisia in the past few days after Gaddafi forces overran the border post the rebels had earlier seized.
Tunisia's government late on Thursday issued a statement condemning incursions by Libyan forces after shells fired by Gaddafi loyalists fell into the desert near the border.
"Given the gravity of what has happened... the Tunisian authorities have informed the Libyans of their extreme indignation and demand measures to put an immediate stop to these violations," a statement from the foreign ministry said.
Friday's clashes marked the first time that Libyan government ground forces had crossed the border and entered a Tunisian town.
Residents said that a crowd of local people gathered in Dehiba on Friday morning to try to prevent pro-Gaddafi forces from entering the town.
They said the Tunisian military fired in the air to disperse them, and urged the demonstrators to seek shelter from the shelling inside their homes.
NATO air strikes on Friday hit Gaddafi forces which had been attacking
the rebel held town of Zintan, a rebel spokesman told Reuters.
"NATO this morning attacked Gaddafi's forces positioned north of Zintan,
from where they have been surrounding the town. Five missiles landed in
the area," the spokesman, called Abdulrahman, said by telephone from
"Gaddafi's forces did not bombard Zintan today after the air strikes," he said.