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NTC says former Qaddafi loyalists will be welcome to work for new Libyan regime

Keen to avoid the mistakes made in Iraq, where US officials barred top members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from the post-invasion government in 2003, Libya's National Transitional Council is urging employees of the Qaddafi regime to return to work as quickly as possible.

TRIPOLI // The lessons of history are usually ignored, but Libya's new leaders appear to be heeding at least one.

Instead of barring Libyans who worked for the regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi from working in government again, as US officials did with top members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party after the American invasion in 2003, they are urging employees of the regime to return to work as quickly as possible.

"We will work with former regime bureaucrats and technocrats if they were loyal to Libya and not to Qaddafi," said Hisham Krekshi, the deputy head of the Tripoli city council. "If their hands are bloodied, they will be brought to justice."

In a bid to appease their own ranks, National Transitional Council officials announced plans yesterday to train 3,000 demobilised rebel fighters as police and national security officers and to set up training schemes and scholarships for others. However, always anxious to encourage national reconciliation, they said the plans would also be open to those who fought to defend Col Qaddafi.

Many state employees were confused and apprehensive resuming their posts.

On a recent afternoon in Tripoli, a man approached the front gates of the once feared but now abandoned internal security headquarters looking to return to work.

He said he was an employee of the justice ministry, which he had heard would be relocated there. He was quick to point out he had not worked for the internal security forces.

He was eager to get back to work, but unsure of his future.

The NTC wants a public sector that is eager to return to work. That will help them avoid the chaos of Iraq, where everyone linked to the old regime was fired. The sweeping dismissals also created a huge group of trained people who evolved into embittered enemies of the new government.

In Libya, it appears the NTC will be able to count on some continuity. But, under Col Qaddafi most institutions were weak. For the most part, the new leadership will have to build efficient governments with employees who are not accustomed to some power and accountability. However, the most important job for the NTC at the moment is to make Libya safe.

Mohammed Ben Ras Ali, a member of the Emergency Stabilisation Team appointed by the NTC, said the group drafted a plan months ago and anticipated these problems.

"On August 19 we started implementing our plan in the entire country," he said. "In Tripoli, on day one, we secured all the important locations, military sites, energy installations, government buildings, security apparatus."

He said the team was created in Doha in June and has 13 members. As for former regime officials, Mr Ben Ras Ali said the NTC will not work with people "who killed or stole money, but we push for reconciliation and we are welcoming everybody else".

The NTC's rank and file were equally eager for security and a quick and effective transition.

"We are trying to secure every single street, strategic places, schools, governments and institution buildings," said Abu Baker Al Muaqaf, 32, a NTC fighter.

"We want to avoid looting and burning of public buildings, because we want to use them straight away to govern the country."

Last week, Mr Krekshi and his colleagues took advantage of that security. The new city council, which was formed in secret during the past six months and its members work as volunteers, took over the offices of the Tripoli municipality.

But when they showed up, they found just three people there: the head of the police, Ali Hamrouni, and two mid-ranking officials. The rest of the employees stayed home, too frightened to come to work.

The councilmen eventually persuaded Mr Hamrouni and the other men to call their colleagues and urge them to get back on the job. In recent days, the council has used radio and text messages to spur policemen and public officers to return to work.

The councilmen "asked me to stay", Mr Hamrouni said.

"They didn't take the risk of putting another man in this position because they know I have years of experience."

After assuring that most of the country is safe, the NTC leadership must start building a government that will respond to its citizens.

Mr Krekshi, his colleagues and members of the NTC leadership, expected this challenge.

Like Tripoli's new leaders, people who supported the NTC in many of Libya's cities and towns worked secretly to assemble city councils and neighbourhood groups that were ready govern once Qaddafi fell.

Whether they will be able to fill the nation's power vacuum remains to be seen.

Unlike Baghdad in 2003, when it took many months before the first police officers returned to the streets, Tripoli already has some police on the beat.

The military central command in Tripoli has started issuing permits for carrying weapons to all NTC fighters, and neighbourhood councils are collecting arms from residents or registering them.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters