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Armed militias roam streets of Tripoli

The main stage in Martyrs’ Square, the Libyan capital’s central plaza, has been plastered with signs.

world Updated: Oct 07, 2011 01:45 IST
Tara Bahrampour

The main stage in Martyrs’ Square, the Libyan capital’s central plaza, has been plastered with signs.

No to carrying weapons, they read. No to randomly firing bullets and rockets. No to the continued military presence here and in other liberated cities.

The signs reflect the concerns of residents, who say they are fed up with the militias that have taken over the streets of Tripoli in the past two months.

“We are not feeling safe,” said Aman Sad, 38, a nurse. “The ones who are carrying weapons are young men who are not trained.”

But asking revolutionaries to leave town after a revolution is a delicate matter, especially for a government still fighting on at least two fronts. As it works to create a cohesive national army, Libya’s Transitional National Council must also find a place for the thousands of men who formed separate brigades that were instrumental in toppling autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.

Since sweeping into Tripoli in August, out-of-town revolutionaries have been striding around with Kalashnikovs and pistols that they sometimes fire skyward in displays of bravado. Residents of the capital are tiring of them, and skirmishes have erupted between outside brigades and Tripoli fighters, who say they can secure the city on their own.

The head of Tripoli’s military council, Abdulhakim Belhadj, called this week for unauthorised militias to leave the city. But some brigade members say they do not recognise him as their leader.

And with a national army that is in the process of reforming and has no commander, some say the militias’ presence is necessary.

If the outside brigades leave Tripoli, “car bombs will go off the next day,” said Mohamed Benrasali, a council member from Misurata who leads Libya’s civilian stabilization team.

Disarmament will be difficult as long as there are competing groups that don’t trust one another and don’t have faith in the system, said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Hisham Krekshi, deputy chairman of the Tripoli local council that oversees the city’s military council, said that although it is important not to anger the revolutionaries, “slowly people have to go back to school, dentists have to go back to the clinic, workers have to go back to work. I’m sure in a few months these people will dissolve back into society.”