Last updated: 19 November, 2013

Libya unveils plan to remove militias from Tripoli

Libya’s government announced Tuesday plans to remove militias from the capital and eventually integrate them into the security forces, after a weekend of deadly clashes between militiamen and residents.

As a first step, the authorities would try to determine exactly how many militias are operating in Tripoli, their sizes and the weapons they hold, according to the plan communicated to the General National Congress.

Once that is accomplished, the militias would then be removed from the capital, disarmed and their men integrated into the security forces, which has long been sought by the government.

The Misrata militia, which was at the heart of the weekend violence in which 46 people died and some 500 were wounded, already started pulling out of the city on Monday at the behest of community leaders in their city, on the Mediterranean coast.

Former rebels helped topple and kill veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, but have since banded into militias carving their own fiefdoms, each with its own ideology and regional allegiance.

Ex-rebels like those from Misrata, as well as the western city of Zintan, control parts of Tripoli.

The Misrata and Zintan militias are the most heavily armed groups to have emerged from the uprising, having looted Kadhafi’s arsenal, seizing light and heavy weapons, armed vehicles and even tanks.

The unrest, the deadliest in the capital since the uprising, erupted on Friday when demonstrators protesting against militias in Tripoli’s Gharghour neighbourhood were fired upon from villas occupied by the Misrata fighters, who killed several of them.

Rival militiamen then swept in, sparking clashes that continued until Saturday.

As the Misrata militiamen began withdrawing on Monday, soldiers aboard armoured vehicles made their way into the city centre, making victory signs at passing drivers who sounded their horns in approval.

On Tuesday, dozens of police were deployed on the capital’s streets as residents continued to demonstrate against the militias on the third day of a general strike called for by the city government.

The Misrata brigade saw some of the heaviest fighting during the uprising against Kadhafi, when their city was besieged by regime forces.

But many such groups have rejected government calls to lay down their arms or integrate into the armed forces, triggering the frustration of Libyans who once hailed them as heroes for toppling Kadhafi.