Pentagon chief Panetta visits Libya
Tripoli - US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta
was in Tripoli on Saturday on the first visit to Libya by a Pentagon chief to
study up close the security needs of the new government.
During the visit, which was to last only a
few hours, Panetta was to meet Defence Minister Osama Jouili and Prime Minister
Abdel Rahim al-Kib, an AFP correspondent travelling with him said.
"The purpose of my trip to Libya is to
have an opportunity to look at that situation up close but to also pay tribute
to the Libyan people to what they did in bringing (Muammar) Gaddafi down and
trying to establish a government for the future," Panetta told the
"There are going to be challenges here,
there are going to be difficulties, but I think any country like Libya, that
was able to do what they did and showed the courage that they did ... I'm
confident that ultimately they're going to be able to succeed in putting a
democracy together in Libya.
"The indications I've had are that
they're making progress, trying to bring the tribes together, trying to get the
"They have earned the right to try to
determine their future, to work their way to the issues that they're going to
have to confront.
"Obviously, we're prepared, if they want
to, provide whatever assistance they ask us to do. Nato countries have
indicated the same willingness to do that."
Enforcement by the Atlantic alliance of a
UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya was crucial in the months-long battle to
oust Gaddafi that began in February.
Libya's new rulers are also facing a big
challenge as they try to disarm militiamen who fought to topple Gaddafi and
secure thousands of surface-to-air missiles stockpiled under the former regime.
Pressure to disarm the former rebels has
mounted after local media reported several skirmishes between militia factions
in Tripoli, with some resulting in casualties.
There are concerns that the Man-Portable Air
Defence Systems, or MANPADS, could be used by militant groups against
commercial airliners and helicopters.
Panetta travelled to Libya from Turkey, where
he held wide-ranging talks. On Thursday, he was in Iraq to take part in a
ceremony marking the end of the US mission.
His visit came a day after the United Nations
and the United States lifted sanctions on Libya's central bank in a bid to ease
a cash crunch in the post-Kadhafi era, diplomats said.
The Tripoli authorities have stepped up calls
in recent weeks to release the estimated $150 billion frozen abroad to help pay
salaries and keep services running.