After deadly clashes between rival fighters in Tripoli this week, Libya’s transitional government expressed growing concern that the country could descend into civil war if its militias were not brought under control.
The leader of the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, bluntly warned late Tuesday that the government faced “bitter options” as it struggled to rein in thousands of fighters who joined regional militias during the months of battles against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and have remained in Tripoli, the capital, long after his death. “We deal with these violations strictly and put the Libyans in a military confrontation, which we don’t accept, or we split and there will be a civil war,” Mr. Abdel-Jalil was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The Libyan government had hoped to clear the city of out-of-town militiamen by Dec. 20.
The country’s transitional leaders are trying to create a robust army by cobbling together the many defectors from Colonel Qaddafi’s military and other former rebel fighters. They have said they would like to coax other fighters into civilian life by creating jobs for those who disarm, but have so far had few financial resources to make that happen.
The militias are reluctant to disarm because they hope to protect their regions’ interests as the future government takes shape. Even now, having arms appears to help in the jostling for reconstruction money. Militia leaders also say they want to keep their weapons because they are fearful a new dictator could emerge.
Last month, a powerful militia from the western mountain town of Zintan exchanged fire with soldiers from the Libyan National Army at a checkpoint run by the militia on the road to Tripoli’s international airport.
And on Tuesday, fighters with the Tripoli militia, whose members are mostly from the capital, engaged in an hourlong shootout with a heavily armed militia from Misurata along one of the capital’s busiest streets. Two fighters died in the clashes. The militiamen from Misurata had been trying to free prisoners from a compound controlled by the local fighters, news agencies reported.
Mr. Abdel-Jalil warned that such clashes imperiled Libya’s political progress. “If there is no security, there will be no law, no development and no elections,” he said. “People are taking the law into their own hands.”