Libya interior minister calls time on rogue militias
Sat Mar 10, 2012 5:26pm GMT
* Minister says national police building strength
* Warns militias they will face his men if don't disband
* Militia say will relinquish Tripoli airport next week
By Ayman al-Sahli
MISRATA, Libya, March 10 (Reuters) - Libya's Interior Minister has warned
militias outside the control of the central government to put down their
arms or face confrontation with the new national security forces.
The militias spearheaded the rebellion which last year forced out Libyan
leader Muammar Gaddafi. Months later, some of them still occupy government
buildings and man checkpoints while answering to their own commanders, not
International rights groups and the United Nations have identified the
militias as one of the biggest challenges to stability as the country tries
to build new institutions after 42 years of Gaddafi's rule.
Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has called on the militias to
disband before, and been ignored, but it has been slowly building up a
police force and army with the capacity to take on the militias.
At a graduation ceremony for police recruits, Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel
A'al said the police now had 25,000 men and was ready to step into the
security vacuum that the militias had filled since Gaddafi's overthrow.
"There is a message to those groups who do not join the interior ministry,"
Abdel A'al said late on Friday in Misrata, about 200 km (130 miles) east of
"I tell them frankly: there is no excuse for you to carry out security
functions inside Libya. You must make yourselves legitimate or these lions
(the new police recruits), they will face you."
"There should not be any more militias after this day. They should all
stop," the minister said.
"All of those people who still do not have confidence in the Interior
Ministry or the government, we tell them our answer will not be through
statements or press conferences, our answer will be practical and we start
Over the past few months, many of the militias have scaled back their
activities, gone back to their home towns or merged themselves into national
In the capital, Tripoli, young militiamen in mismatched camouflage fatigues
and with automatic weapons slung around their necks used to be on every
street corner. Now they are now rarely seen.
That has left a rump of heavily-armed militias in the capital who have
refused to disband. These include a group from the western town of Zintan
who control Tripoli International Airport, and the Swehli militia, from
Misrata, which is holding two British journalists it accuses of spying.
These groups have become increasingly isolated. They are under pressure from
the NTC to leave the city, and also from local leaders in their home cities,
who say privately that the militias should fall into line.
In a sign of the pressure, the Zintan militia has promised to hand over the
airport to NTC control. An official with the militia told Reuters the plan
was to complete the handover by Thursday next week.
"We are under state orders," said the official, Fadel Abu-Sweir. "We have to
leave." (Additional reporting by Ali Shuaib in Tripoli; Writing by Christian
Lowe; Editing by Michael Roddy)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Mar 10 2012 - 14:51:17 EST