Revolutionary militias in western Libya unify

AP News
Posted: Feb 13, 2012 4:54 PM
Revolutionary militias in western Libya unify

Representatives of about 100 militias from western Libya said Monday they had formed a new federation to prevent infighting and allow them to press the country's new government for further reform.

The move was a blow to the National Transitional Council, which helped lead the eight-month uprising against longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi that ended with his capture and death in October. The NTC has struggled for months to stamp its authority on the country, and has largely failed to decommission or bring under its control the hundreds of militias that fought in the war.

Ibrahim al-Madani, a commander whose brigade joined the new federation, said the fighters would not give up their arms to what they considered a corrupt government.

"We didn't turn against Gadhafi but against a corrupt regime," al-Madani told reporters at a news conference. "We will not lay down our weapons until we are assured that the revolution is on the right track."

The leader of the federation, Col. Mokhtar Fernana, criticized the NTC body in charge of integrating revolutionary fighters, accusing it of taking in many men who had fought for Gadhafi. "This committee is an attempt to hijack the revolution," Fernana said.

NTC officials did not attend the announcement ceremony.

Some commanders who have joined the new federation said that it has yet to define its relationship to the NTC's Defense Ministry, which is supposed to have command over all armed groups. They also said they would establish a united command _ a move unlikely to succeed, given the fierce independence of many of the fighters and the hundreds of miles (kilometers) between their cities.

Since the war's end, revolutionary militias have frequently clashed over control of weapons depots.

The federation's formation could also emphasize a historic rift between eastern and western Libya by serving as a competitor with the so-called Barqa front, a coalition of militias in the east.

Also Monday, the NTC announced the allocation of seats for the country's first, post-revolution parliament, to be elected in June. The west, including Tripoli and the Nafusa mountains, will have 102 seats; the east, including Benghazi where the anti-Gadhafi uprising began, will have 60; the south will have 29; and central cities including Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte will have 9.

The national congress will be tasked with forming a new government and establishing a committee to write a constitution.

Libya is set to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Gadhafi uprising on Feb. 17. NTC Interior Minister Fawzy Abdel-Al told reporters Sunday that the country is on high alert because of a statement by one of Gadhafi's sons calling for a new uprising.

The son, Al-Saadi, fled to neighboring Niger near the end of the war. Niger has refused Libyan requests that he be extradited to stand trial.

In another sign of the precarious security situation since Gadhafi's fall, 11 people were killed in tribal fighting in the desert area of Kufra Monday, said Farag Saad of the local hospital. Most of the dead were civilians, he said. Kufra area lies about 500 miles (804 kilometers) south of the early coastal city of Derna, deep in the desert.

The clashes pitted fighters from local tribes. It was unclear what sparked the clashes.