Libya’s interim government distributed free fuel to hundreds of civilians desperate to leave Bani Walid, the city where forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi are holed up.
Amateur video filmed on Monday and obtained by the Reuters news agency showed fierce fighting for control of the town.
Witnesses said despite capturing the capital Tripoli with relative ease last month, National Transition Council forces have met strong resistance over the last five days in their bid to take the desert town.
Complaining of hardship and intimidation, many residents began a 180 kilometre journey north to Tripoli in cars packed with family members and possessions.
In the capital, the new authorities said they are keen to regulate the many rebel groups that helped overthrow Gaddafi.
The militias and volunteers have set up checkpoints all over the city.
“We are checking the cars for weapons because there are clandestine groups around. Those who we catch with weapons, we hand over to the council,” said Mohammad Homeda Ali Talha, manning a checkpoint in central Tripoli.
Officials say they’ll give members of armed groups like Talha the chance to either join the military, the police forces or to resign.