Jay Deshmukh, AFP
Last updated: 6 December, 2011

Libya militias given 2 weeks to quit Tripoli

Libya’s government on Tuesday gave its firm support to a two-week deadline for militias to quit Tripoli, backing up a threat from the capital’s council to lock down the city if they fail to do so.

“A public demonstration will be held tomorrow at 4:30 pm in Martyrs’ Square in support of… initiatives to clear Tripoli of weapons and the unnecessary presence of militia,” a statement from the office of the interim premier said.

“It is anticipated that the demonstration will escalate each day until December 20. On that day, if the militias have not left the city, the public of Tripoli and the Libyan government will close the whole city to traffic.”

The statement by Abdel Rahim al-Kib’s office came after he met city council chief and other members of the National Transitional Council (NTC) on the security concerns posed by the presence of armed militias in Tripoli.

These militias led the uprising which toppled Moamer Kadhafi and their members now man checkpoints across Tripoli and even installations like Tripoli international airport.

Several militias present in the capital are from other regions of Libya and on Tuesday Abdul Razzak Abuhajar, president of the Tripoli council, urged them to leave the city.

“I would urge all of those militias from outside Tripoli to return home,” the statement from Kib’s office quoted Abuhajar as saying separately at a news conference.

“We are grateful for their help but now it is time for them to return to their families and friends to help rebuild their own cities and lives,” he said, adding people demanded “safety provided by legitimate government enforcement bodies.”

“We call on Libyans to show restraint and maturity during the coming days but ultimately these plans coordinated by the government and the people of Tripoli reflect a necessary step in the city’s transitional process.”

Kib welcomed the city council’s initiatives to help clear Tripoli of weapons and militias and “confirmed that the interior and defence ministries will also provide full support to the Tripoli local council,” the statement added.

Abuhajar told reporters that during his meeting with Kib the government had also vowed to disarm Tripoli completely by the end of the year.

“The government has promised us to disarm Tripoli by December 31. They have assured the Tripoli council that the entire city will be disarmed,” he said.

On Tuesday, dozens of protesters blocked several main roads in Tripoli to demand fighters from other parts of Libya pull out of the city, which the rebels seized from Kadhafi’s forces in August.

Their action, which triggered huge traffic jams for most of the day, was also aimed at emptying several buildings used by fighters from outside the city as their headquarters.

On October 5, Libya’s new leaders ordered all heavy weapons be removed from Tripoli, warning their prolonged presence risked giving a bad image to the revolution which ousted and killed Kadhafi.

Facing international concerns, the NTC has insisted that despite the proliferation of arms on the street, the Kadhafi regime’s looted weaponry has not left Libya.

The pressure to disarm former rebels in Tripoli rose after local media reported several skirmishes between various factions.

On Sunday, a former rebel was killed in Tripoli in a shootout with members of a brigade of Rojban fighters from the west who wanted the release of a comrade held in a security services building in central Al-Jumhuria Street.

Witnesses said dozens of armed men and civilians forced their way to Tripoli’s main courthouse and the office of the attorney general, Abdelaziz al-Hasadi, calling for an ex-rebel allegedly involved in a murder to be freed.

The prosecutor fled before being caught by angry demonstrators who demanded that he sign a release order for the accused.

“This incident is very worrying. There is evidence of the deteriorating security situation in Tripoli,” a local journalist said.

Kib’s office said the local military councils have begun to establish roadblocks and checkpoints in parts of Tripoli.

“Some streets face total closure. Others will prevent the movement of any armed vehicles except those of the ministry of the interior and ministry of defence,” it said.

Libya’s interim interior minister Fawzi Abdelali had said last week that 50,000 of former rebels will be integrated into security forces in the near term.