News24

Libya 'must offer militia a way out'

2012-01-06 11:30

Washington - Libya must offer its still-armed revolutionary fighters a future beyond the gun, the country's former interim prime minister said on Thursday, warning that failure could spell destabilising violence.

Speaking in Washington days after violent clashes erupted in the capital Tripoli, Ali Tarhouni - an adviser to the current government - said disarming and integrating bands of militia fighters will be key to avoiding an escalation in violence.

"You need to give these young men an outlook to the future, something that they can buy in to," Tarhouni told a think tank in the US capital.

With the aid of a vast Nato air campaign, loosely linked brigades of volunteer fighters with little military experience were largely responsible for winning the war against former strongman Muammar Gaddafi's troops.

But reining in these armed and disparate groups has provided difficult since the fall of the regime.

The interim government has demanded that fighters disarm or join a new professional military or police force.

Tarhouni said that approach was no longer adequate, and an "integrated" approach was needed.

"I am not sure that is really the right way to go about it."

"You need to look at their needs in terms of jobs, you need to look at the question of training them, in educational aspects... healthcare," he said.

"Most people want to go back to their normal life, the question is, there is no alternative for them."

New army chief

His comments come after a gunfight on Tuesday killed four people.

A group of men from Libya's third-biggest city Misrata traded anti-aircraft and heavy machinegun fire with a militia from a central Tripoli neighbourhood in broad daylight.

Although Tarhouni dismissed suggestions that the violence could be the beginnings of a civil war, analysts have warned that the situation could easily spiral out of control.

"The transitional government of Libya is struggling - and so far failing - to meet the demands of numerous militias, a failure that is increasingly threatening the prospects for peaceful transition," said Crispin Hawes of the Eurasia Group.

"Interim Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib said the day after the Tripoli clashes that militia fighting could lead to civil war, which is clearly true, but the government has failed to engage many of the key militia organisations in dialogue aimed at reducing the capacity for such clashes."

Tarhouni admitted that a failure to dissolve the militia could also hinder Libya's political development as it emerges from 43 years of dictatorship.

"If these militia groups remain intact and have their guns then the dialogue between them and the rest of us will be lopsided."

On Wednesday, militia groups rejected the government's choice of a new army chief, further stoking questions about the militia's role in politics.