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Libya orders 'illegitimate' militias to disband

September 23, 2012


Libyan security forces stand guard outside a hospital that used to be under the control of the radical Salafist militia Ansar al-Sharia in the eastern city of Benghazi on September 23, 2012. A Libyan crackdown on lawless militias spread to the capital Tripoli after armed groups that have not been integrated into state institutions were ordered to disband and evacuate their bases. -AFP Photo

BENGHAZI: Libya's president ordered all of the country's militias to come under government authority or disband, a move that appeared aimed at harnessing popular anger against the powerful armed groups following the attack last week that killed the US ambassador.    

The assault on the US 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, 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.

Late Saturday, President Mohammed el-Megaref told reporters that the militias, which the weak central government has relied upon since Gadhafi's ouster in October to provide security in neighborhoods and at state facilities across the country, must fall under the umbrella of the national authorities or disband.

El-Megaref said a joint operations room in Benghazi will coordinate between the various authorized armed brigades and the army. Militias operating outside the ''legitimacy of the state'' will be dissolved, and the military and police will take control over those armed groups' barracks, he said.

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 the capital, Tripoli, and other cities to hand them over. It warned that it will resort to force if the groups refuse.

Since Gadhafi's capture and killing, the government has brought some militias nominally under the authority of the military or Interior Ministry, but even those retain separate commanders and often are only superficially subordinate to the state.

Even following el-Megaref's announcement, it was unclear whether the government had the will, and the firepower, to force the most powerful militias bend to its authority.