BENGHAZI (Reuters) - The new head of Libya's military on Tuesday called on armed groups to put themselves under the command of the national army, after clashes in which 31 people were killed, adding that patience was running out with the independent militias.
Fighting broke out on Saturday at the headquarters of the Libya Shield militia in the eastern city of Benghazi when the group's gunmen clashed with protesters demanded the disbanding of militias, and with troops. Several soldiers and protesters were among the dead.
"We welcome any force want to join the army and we are ready to pay bonuses to those who hand over weapons," Salem al-Gnaidy, who became army chief of staff on Sunday, told a news conference. His predecessor Yussef al-Mangoush resigned in response to the Benghazi clashes.
Public resentment has been building over the continued existence of dozens of armed militias nearly two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, especially after militiamen laid siege to ministries in Tripoli last month to force their will on the national assembly.
But the central government, whose own forces are too weak to maintain security in a country awash with weapons, has found itself having to co-opt or license some of the most powerful militias to maintain even a semblance of order, while shutting down some others.
"We cannot be more patient with the militias than that," Gnaidy said.
Anger at the militias surged in Benghazi last September after the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in an attack on the U.S. mission there.
(Reporting by Feras Bosalum; writing by Tarek Amara; editing by Andrew Roche)