* Panetta is first U.S. defence secretary to visit Libya
* Interim leaders struggle to assert control over militias
* U.N. lifts bank sanctions, U.S. unlocks over $30 bln
* Clashes between militias, rival tribes (Adds violence)
By Missy Ryan and Matt Robinson
TRIPOLI, Dec 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told Libya's
leaders on Saturday they faced a long, hard road in moving on from 42 years
of one-man rule and uniting rival militias that still hold the streets in
the oil-producing North African state.
Panetta, the first U.S. defence chief ever to visit Libya, said Washington
stood ready to help but offered no specific aid to a leadership struggling
to stamp its authority two months after the capture and killing of Muammar
He warned of tough challenges ahead in uniting the armed groups that emerged
from the war, in securing arms caches and building an army, police and
"This will be a long and difficult transition, but I am confident that you
will succeed," the defence secretary said at a news conference after meeting
interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib and Defence Minister Osama
The authority of Libya's interim government is being challenged by militias
who took Tripoli in August, six months after the start of a rebellion
against Gaddafi that drew NATO into an air war.
Some withdrew after Gaddafi was killed in October, but others remain,
heavily armed and holding out for a share of the power they say they are
"I'm confident they (the interim leaders) are taking the right steps to
reach out to all of these groups and bring them together so they will be
part of one Libya and one defence system," Panetta said.
Clashes between militias and rival tribes since Gaddafi's over thrown are
threatening to spiral out of control in the absence of a fully-functioning
government or national security force to unite the thinly populated desert
Late on Friday, senior military leader Khalifa Haftar said two of his sons
had been wounded in separate gunfights with militias from the western town
of Zintan which control Tripoli's airport and other locations in the
A week earlier, a convoy carrying Haftar, the commander of ground forces in
the Libyan national army, clashed with militiamen at a checkpoint near the
Prime Minister Keib promised job programmes and other "opportunities" to
help coax the militias off the streets.
U.N. LIFTS BANK SANCTIONS
"We know how serious this issue is, we know it's not just a matter of saying
'Okay, just put down your arms and go back to work,'" he told reporters,
speaking in English.
"We have solid programmes that are designed to attract all these young men
Keib's government won a welcome boost on Friday when the U.N. Security
Council lifted sanctions on Libya's central bank and a subsidiary, clearing
the way for the release of tens of billions of dollars held overseas to ease
an acute cash crisis.
The United States said it had unblocked more than $30 billion in Libyan
The Libyan leadership sorely needs the funds -- estimated to total around
$150 billion -- to pay public sector workers, start the long process of
rebuilding and to bolster its authority over the militias.
Panetta arrived from Turkey, having also visited Afghanistan and presided
over the formal end to almost nine years of war in Iraq on Thursday.
The Tripoli leg lasted only hours, ending with Panetta paying respects at a
Protestant cemetery overlooking Tripoli's harbour and believed to hold the
remains of 13 U.S. soldiers killed in an ill-fated naval mission to combat
piracy in 1804.
The graves bore small American flags and a floral wreath.
The United States took part in the NATO bombing campaign against Gaddafi's
forces, but handed the initial lead role to alliance allies including France
Panetta said the new leadership would need to secure the weaponry
proliferating in the country and build professional security forces.
He said Washington was ready to help however it could, but said there had
been no discussion of supplying arms or military equipment. (Additional
reporting by Taha Zargoun; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Sophie
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Sat Dec 17 2011 - 17:07:09 EST