AFRICANGLOBE – Last week-end’s bloody attack on anti-militia protesters in Benghazi stirred a large debate about the role of the military in a country that has been suffering from security turmoil since the fall of the Gaddafi regime.
Militias will have to either lay down their arms or join the army by the end of the year, Tripoli Post quoted Libya’s new chief of staff, Col. Salem al-Gnaidy, as saying on Wednesday (June 12th).
Al-Gnaidy’s demand was issued after last Saturday’s deadly fighting in Benghazi between protesters and the Libya Shield militia that left 31 dead and at least 70 injured.
Fighting erupted after some 200 demonstrators tried to dislodge the “Libya Shield” First Brigade (Deraa 1) from its barracks in the Budazirah neighbourhood of Benghazi. They encircled the headquarters and called on regular security forces to step in.
It is unclear what prompted the confrontation. According to Libya Herald, Shield 1 “has a reputation of being pro-Islamist, unlike Shield 2, which is considered more sympathetic to the federalists”.
On Tuesday, al-Gnaidy warned armed battalions of the consequences of continued security problems caused by armed militias.
“Patience is beginning to run out,” he said at a news conference.
Al-Gnaidy gave the armed battalions the choice between joining the army and working under his command or facing the law.
“We’ll set a date for handing in weapons in coordination with the government and General National Congress (GNC),” he added. “We welcome all factions that want to join the army, and we’re ready to pay bonuses or rewards to each brigade that hands in their weapons and sends its members to join the army.”
The Saturday attack caused considerable anger among Libyans, who demanded the establishment of a national army and the dissolving of armed militias.
“The government announced an investigation on the clashes without revealing its purpose,” Libyan media figure Khaled Mhir said. “We are still waiting for the report of the government’s investigation to understand, who fired first?”
“Suspension alone is not enough: anarchic weapons must be eliminated too, in a way that ensures employment for young jobseekers in various sectors, according to the possibilities of each and every one of them,” wrote lawyer and human rights activist Abdullah Mesmari on his blog.
Party of Change official Mohamed Ghenim wondered if it was better to activate the army or to build a new national one in Libya “from patriotic and sincere elements”.
Journalist Thouraya Khalil pointed to the fact that Gaddafi dissolved the military. “It was replaced with brigades and militias under the leadership of the chief of staff and subject to the control of Gadaffi’s sons,” she said.
Tobruk resident Salem Bayoudh witnessed the Saturday clashes: “I saw young people gathered at the gates of the battalion and asking for the removal of the emperor ruling it. After that we saw shooting and anti-aircraft missiles on unarmed people. I saw it with my own eyes.”
The head of the joint security chamber, Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Sharif talked about the difficulties ahead in defusing tensions in Benghazi. Not only are there shortages of equipment, vehicles, shields and communication assets, which he said “are very important for our work”, but only half of the allocated budget is available for use.
“We want security and safety under the army and police,” Benghazi public sector employee Youssef al-Zawi said.
“We want state institutions; we are fed up with militias and their acts,” he added. “They observe no laws.”