x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Libya militia starts Tripoli withdrawal after clashes

Militia fighters blamed for the worst violence in Tripoli since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi have begun to pull out of the capital.

TRIPOLI // Libyan militia fighters blamed for the worst violence in Tripoli since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi began pulling out of the capital yesterday and Libyan army units moved in to secure their areas, government officials said.

Kidnappers yesterday also freed Libya’s deputy intelligence chief a day after he was abducted from Tripoli’s international airport, a senior official said.

Clashes between rival militias in Tripoli last week killed dozens of people, highlighting the government’s struggle to curb former fighters and hardline Islamists who refuse to disarm two years after helping oust Qaddafi in an uprising backed by Nato air strikes.

The withdrawal of some powerful militias from the capital may ease tensions temporarily, but Libya’s nascent armed forces are still no match for the rival militias who control other parts of the country.

Militias from the coastal city of Misurata, who clashed with protesters on Friday and Saturday killing 46 people, began to withdraw to the east, including units from groups called Libya Shield and the Gharghour Brigades, a senior official said.

“Misurata troops in Tripoli have now retreated and are in the area between the two cities,” said Saleh Jouda, a member of the security council of the country’s parliament.

The defence ministry said army units would move into the areas the Misurata militias controlled.

Soldiers perched on armoured vehicles were seen making their way to the city centre from the east, making victory signs at passing drivers, who honked their horns in approval.

Tripoli was mostly calm yesterday, with many stores, schools and universities closed in support of a strike called by the city’s local leaders to demand the Misurata militiamen leave.

Militias and former fighters are often paid by the government to protect ministries and government offices. Many former fighters remain loyal to their commanders, tribes or towns and cities and often battle over the control of territory.

Militia fighters managed to disrupt Libya’s oil exports in recent months, cutting off the government’s main source of revenue and increasing fears that the country – scene of the only Arab Spring revolt of 2011 to attract large-scale western military support – was slipping into chaos.

Elsewhere, the military governor of Benghazi escaped a bomb blast that killed a member of his entourage and seriously wounded another, a security official said.

The eastern city has seen regular violence since 2011.

* Reuters with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse