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From ‘freedom fighters’ to ‘militias’: Libya’s former rebels threaten security

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The international news has been quiet on Libya for at least a month or so, but Libyans themselves are far from quiet. On Wednesday, hundreds of residents and policemen in Tripoli protested jointly against former rebels who are still camping out in the capital and parading their weapons.

Once ‘freedom fighters’ and now described as ‘militias’ (don’t you just love language?), Libya’s former rebels, far from making the country feel safe, are now doing the very opposite.

Chanting “We want safety not weapons”, Tripoli residents said they want the militias, who came to the capital mostly from the cities of Misrata and Zintan, to go home.

One resident, Aisha Hassan, said: “Someone won a weightlifting tournament in Africa and they celebrated by firing anti-aircraft guns.”

It seems that most of those going around carrying the weapons are unemployed youths and a 75% figure has even been mentioned, though it is not exactly clear where this figure comes from, or if it is a reliable statistic.

The interim government and the city council have given the former rebels until December 20 to leave Tripoli. Further to this, Abdel-Rafik Bu Hajjar, the head of the Tripoli local council, ordered the armed residents to hand in their weapons to the authorities.


Libyans at a checkpoint in Tripoli Copyright @AFP


The country’s new rulers, the National Transitional Council, are being tested by strong-willed Libyans who refuse to take orders. While Tripoli is the main focus in the news, Misrata is one city which, time after time, has shown defiance to the NTC. Militias in Misrata have built up a vast arsenal of weapons which they will no doubt be reluctant to give up.

There are a few reasons as to why the militias have maintained their weapons. Abdullah Naker, head of the Tripoli Revolutionary Council, told Reuters , “We accept the decision to disarm the militias but we would like to know how the weapons will be handed over. We need to know whether security in the city will be protected”.

Others refuse to give up arms as a matter of principle. Former fighter Suleiman said: “Disarming us shouldn’t be done. We were prepared to die to save others and now the government is treating us as if there is no difference between us and regular citizens. We should get to keep our guns”.

The problem prevents people from continuing with their lives after a brutal civil war. Many people will be afraid to go out onto the streets. As Umar Khan wrote in Tripoli Post, nobody will ever want to open a shop where armed men can enter and take things away as they please. In his dispatch from Tripoli, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad followed the former rebels, noting the clashes between them and Tripoli residents.

With the numerous brigades claiming to uphold the rule of law, it is clear that a different strategy is needed. Perhaps the National Army should step in, and legislation should be drafted to ban possession of weapons by civilians, or at the very least control who can or or cannot bear arms. Only then can ordinary Libyans stop living in fear of the very people who supposedly liberated them a few months ago.

Written by Iram Ramzan

December 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Posted in middle east

Tagged with , , , ,

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