x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Libya's renegade militias to be disbanded

Authorities have struggled to control lawless armed groups since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, but street protests by ordinary Libyans support action.

TUNIS // Renegade militias who have brought chaos to parts of Libya since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi are to be disbanded.

All militia battalions and their camps will come under the control of central security forces at a unified operations centre in Benghazi.

The announcement yesterday followed a crisis meeting in the city on Saturday night chaired by Mohammed Magarief, president of the interim government, with members of the local council, the prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur and the heads of the army and intelligence services.

The aim is to curb the powers of armed groups of former rebels in the wake of escalating violence. One of the armed gangs, Ansar Al Sharia, has been blamed for an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi two weeks ago, in which the US ambassador was killed.

Successive interim governments have tried to control hundreds of thousands of armed men who have fought turf battles and conducted vendettas, but the new move follows a wave of popular demonstrations in which Ansar Al Sharia members were thrown out of their Benghazi headquarters at the weekend. There have also been protests in Derna, further east, calling for an end to militias and the establishment of formal security forces.

An operations room controlling forces under the interior and defence ministries will "take all necessary measures" to secure Benghazi, a statement after the meeting said.

The announcement appeared to have calmed the city, said Fawzi Wanis, head of the local branch of the Supreme Security Council, an interior ministry force. He confirmed that the meeting called for all brigades not under the control of the government to break up.

However, the Raf Allah Al Sahati brigade, whose Benghazi base was also stormed by protesters early on Saturday, will remain intact as the basis of a new national army, according to the brother of one of its commanders. "It is not possible for Raf Allah Al Sahati to break up; they are the personal bodyguards of ministers. They are keeping the borders safe," said Yousef Sallabi, brother of Ismail, a commander in the brigade.

Instead, he said, the head of the armed forces, Yousef Mangoush, called upon the brigade, along with the Libyan Shield and February 17 groups, which are already technically under the defence ministry, to form the "seed of the new army".

Mr Sallabi also said that about 30 people from the Raf Allah Al Sahati were injured, and as many as 2,000 weapons stolen, when an armed mob forced the brigade to evacuate a base at 3am on Saturday.

In Derna, a council member said the local, unpopular militia, also known as Ansar Al Sharia, was disbanding, as was the much larger Abu Salim brigade, which technically came under the control of the interior ministry about six months ago but which locals say has failed to provide security.

"The rebels in Derna evacuated their camps, and called on the government to replace them," said Awad Lairji. "It is good - for the time being. The Libyan people in Derna demand the police and the army, officially."

Members of the brigades who seek to join the police or army are welcome to do so, he said.

afordham@thenational.ae