Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Militias from Misrata leave Tripoli, but others remain

Soldiers were stationed along the cornische in Tripoli after the militias from Misrata left. (AFP) 

Militias from Misrata, including parts of the so-called Libya Shield Force and the Gharghour Brigades, withdrew from Tripoli on Monday, said Saleh Jouda, a member of the national security committee in the country's assembly. More than 40 people were killed in street battles between rival militias in Tripoli last week, highlighting Libya's struggle to curb fighters and hardline Islamists who refuse to disarm two years after helping NATO oust Gaddafi.
Tripoli was calm with many stores, schools and universities closed in support of a strike called by the city's leaders to demand the militia gunmen leave.
"They have to understand that we want an army, police and rule of law," said Hisham Alwendy, an activist. "All militias should leave the city, even those who are from Tripoli itself."
That may be a tough task. Tripoli, like other regions, remains a dangerous patchwork of rival militia territories controlled by Islamist, secular and tribal gunmen. The withdrawal of one powerful set of fighters, though, may leave Libya's fragile government to face more competition among the militia groups that remain in the city.
Even the official armed forces, and defense and interior ministries, rely on former fighters for security under a program to employ the militiamen.
The prime minister was himself briefly abducted last month from the a five-star Tripoli hotel by gunmen nominally on the government payroll.
Militia fighters employed to guard oil sites have defected and managed to disrupt Libya's oil exports in recent months, cutting off the government's main source of revenue.
Popular protests have helped dislodge Libyan militias before. A hardline Islamist group was driven from Benghazi last year by armed protests, and residents upset by growing violence confronted part of the Libya Shield Force militia this year.
But in Tripoli, where militias have been carving out territories and influence since the fall of Gaddafi, dislodging them may not be so easy.
Misrata's militias were among the first to move into Tripoli as the war drew to a close in 2011. Misrata men are in the Libyan Shield Force linked to the defense ministry.
Across the city are the powerful Zintanis, more secular-leaning and mostly drawn from the Bedouin tribes. Their al Kaka brigade is among the country's most powerful militia groups.
Local militias from Tripoli including the Tajoura brigades and the Islamist-leaning Supreme Security Council, which are aligned with the interior ministry, have sought to position themselves as a legitimate force.
Militia rivalries mirror divisions in Libya's government, where the secular National Forces Alliance is deadlocked with a wing of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood over the country's direction after Gaddafi's fall.
Competition among armed groups with regional and tribal agendas is expected to continue as long as Libya's transition to democracy, its constitution and the distribution of its vast oil reserves remain unresolved.

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