Tripoli/Tunis - Militia fighters blamed for the worst unrest
in Tripoli since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi pulled out of the capital on
Monday with Libyan army units taking up positions around the city.
More than 40 people were killed in street battles between
rival militias in Tripoli last week, highlighting Libya's struggle to curb
fighters and hardline Islamists who refuse to disarm two years after ousting
The latest bloodshed has increased popular anger against
militias in Tripoli, where rival groups have often clashed violently over
territory or in personal feuds.
The withdrawal of one powerful set of fighters, though, may
leave Libya's fragile government to face more competition among the militia
groups that remain in the city.
Western powers, worried about anarchy in a major oil
producer and further insecurity in the region, are promising more expertise to
build up Libya's army.
The country is being closely watched by its North Africa
neighbours, worried about violence spilling across porous borders, especially
with al-Qaeda militants sheltering in southern deserts where Tripoli has less
The pull-out of the gunmen, who are aligned to the coastal
city of Misrata, a centre of anti-Gaddafi resistance, will show how far Libya's
fledgling armed forces are able to control other militias in the capital, and
test Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's will to reassert control over his vast North
Militias from Misrata, including parts of the so-called
Libya Shield Force and the Gharghour Brigades, withdrew from Tripoli on Monday,
said Saleh Jouda, a member of the national security committee in the country's
Tripoli was calm with many stores, schools and universities
closed in support of a strike called by the city's leaders to demand the
militia gunmen leave.
"They have to understand that we want an army, police
and rule of law," said Hisham Alwendy, an activist. "All militias
should leave the city, even those who are from Tripoli itself."
That may be a tough task. Tripoli, like other regions,
remains a dangerous patchwork of rival militia territories controlled by
Islamist, secular and tribal gunmen.
Even the official armed forces, and defence and interior
ministries, rely on former fighters for security under a programme to employ
The prime minister was himself briefly abducted last month
from the a five-star Tripoli hotel by gunmen nominally on the government
Militia fighters employed to guard oil sites have defected
and managed to disrupt Libya's oil exports in recent months, cutting off the
government's main source of revenue.
Popular protests have helped dislodge Libyan militias
before. A hardline Islamist group was driven from Benghazi last year by armed
protests, and residents upset by growing violence confronted part of the Libya
Shield Force militia this year.
But in Tripoli, where militias have been carving out
territories and influence since the fall of Gaddafi, dislodging them may not be
"There are some power plays to come about who will
replace the militias; clearly it is a fragile situation," one western
diplomat said. "It is also clear that they cannot go on delaying a
decision on how to deal with the militias."
Misrata's militias were among the first to move into Tripoli
as the war drew to a close in 2011. Misrata men are in the Libyan Shield Force
linked to the defence ministry.
Across the city are the powerful Zintanis, more
secular-leaning and mostly drawn from the Bedouin tribes. Their al Kaka brigade
is among the country's most powerful militia groups.
Local militias from Tripoli including the Tajoura brigades
and the Islamist-leaning Supreme Security Council, which are aligned with the
interior ministry, have sought to position themselves as a legitimate force.
Militia rivalries mirror divisions in Libya's government,
where the secular National Forces Alliance is deadlocked with a wing of the
Islamist Muslim Brotherhood over the country's direction after Gaddafi's fall.
Competition among armed groups with regional and tribal
agendas is expected to continue as long as Libya's transition to democracy, its
constitution and the distribution of its vast oil reserves remain unresolved.
"Violence and insecurity are likely to remain a key
feature of politics and society for years to come, at least until the new
constitution is approved and fresh elections," said Riccardo Fabiani at
Even as Libya's new military takes the streets, it is clear
it needs more training. Western powers, including the United States and France,
have reiterated their support.
The US military is working on plans to train 5 000 to 7 000
Libyan security forces.