Groups told to accept central rule or disband
BENGHAZI, Libya – The Libyan army on Sunday said it raided several militia outposts operating outside government control in the capital, Tripoli, while in the east, the militia suspected in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate said it had disbanded on orders of the country’s president.
President Mohammed el-Megaref said late Saturday all of the country’s militias must come under government authority or disband, a move that appeared aimed at harnessing popular anger against the powerful armed groups following the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador.
The assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead, has sparked an angry backlash among many Libyans against the myriad armed factions that continue to run rampant across the nation nearly a year after the end of the country’s civil war.
On Friday, some 30,000 residents of Benghazi – the cradle of the Libyan revolution last year that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi – staged a mass demonstration against the militias before storming the compounds of several armed groups in the city in an unprecedented protest to demand the militias dissolve.
The government has taken advantage of the popular sentiment to move quickly. In a statement published by the official LANA news agency, the military asked all armed groups using the army’s camps, outposts and barracks in Tripoli, and other cities to hand them over. It warned that it will resort to force if the groups refuse.
On Sunday, security forces raided a number of sites in the capital, including a military outpost on the main airport road, which were being used as bases by disparate militias since Gadhafi was driven from the capital around a year ago, according to military spokesman Ali al-Shakhli.
The government faces a number of obstacles, though. It needs the most powerful militias on its side to help disband the rest. It also relies on militias for protection of vital institutions and has used them to secure the borders, airports, hospitals and even July’s election.
Some of the militias have taken steps over the past several weeks to consolidate and work as contracted government security forces that are paid monthly salaries.