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[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Slow start for Libya drive to disband militias

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2012 13:32:33 +0100

Slow start for Libya drive to disband militias

Sun Jan 15, 2012 11:14pm GMT

* Trickle of militia members sign up for jobs in police force

* Armed militias are major threat to Libya's stability

* Militia commanders reluctant to relinquish power

By Mahmoud Habboush

TRIPOLI, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Twenty-four hours after Libya's police force
opened its doors for the thousands of militia members to join its ranks,
only 100 had signed up, signalling the long road the government faces to
bring the unruly militias to heel.

The militias, which fought to unseat former leader Muammar Gaddafi, are now
the biggest threat to stability in Libya, clashing regularly with each other
in violent turf wars and undermining the authority of the country's new

The interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), wants to
amalgamate the militias into the police force and army. The NTC's chief said
this month that if they do not comply, the country risks being dragged into
a civil war.

But on the evidence of the trickle of people signing up at the Interior
Ministry's main recruitment centre in a Tripoli compound, most militia
members are still reluctant.

An official at the site said that between Saturday morning and Sunday
morning -- part of the working week in Libya -- they had signed up 100

There are no reliable figures for the number of fighters in Libya's militia
units, but they could number in the hundreds of thousands.

Those that did turn up to seek jobs in the new police force were not from
the heavily-armed and well-organised militias from outside Tripoli which
pose the biggest headache for the NTC.

Instead, the prospective new recruits were from smaller militias which in
any case did not have the resources to challenge for power. Some recruits
said they were there because their units had not paid them.

On Sunday morning, about a dozen young men, mostly dressed in civilian
clothes and holding their green identity cards, stood outside the
registration office, located in a busy Tripoli district near Nasser

They had filled out the job application to join the police and were waiting
to be called so that they could sign an employment contract.

Once the contract is approved, each new recruit would be paid 600 dinars a
month, an interior ministry official, who asked not to be named, told
Reuters. That is about $450, a modest salary by Libyan standards but enough
to live on.

An official said they would be hired initially for six months, after which
their contracts will be reviewed.

One of the would-be police officers was Adel Muftah, 25, who joined a
militia unit after the fall of Tripoli in August.

"I've come here because this is a legitimate force," Muftah said, wearing
the khaki military uniform favoured by many militia fighters. "I haven't
been paid for two months by the militia."


The clerks whose job it was to register the potential recruits would not
comment on whether the numbers who had signed up were in line with

The clerks said they had been given no deadline to stop accepting
applications, though government officials had previously said they wanted to
complete the process within a month.

Salah Mohammed Makhlouf, commander of a Tripoli-based militia, said he had
asked his fighters to sign up for the interior ministry jobs.

He said he was promised by government officials that some of his fighters
would be trained in Jordan, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

But the most powerful militias, and the ones most reluctant to hand over to
the central government, are those affiliated to cities such as Zintan and

They played a major role in the fight to oust Gaddafi, and do not want to
disband until they are sure they will be given a stake in the new Libya that
matches their contribution to the revolution.

Mokhtar al-Akhdar commands a 1,200-strong force drawn mainly from Zintan,
which controls Tripoli airport. His men have fought gunbattles with rival

He said he was talking to the government about transferring control of the
airport to the authorities.

But when he was asked last week to give a timeline, he said he needed to see
a strong government force in place first before he could surrender control.

"We are throwing the ball to the ministries of defence and interior. We will
see what they do," Akhdar told Reuters. "We are patriotic and our nation is
what we care about the most." (Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by
Christian Lowe and Peter Graff)

C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved


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