Libya’s army on Sunday ordered rogue armed groups in and around the capital to leave state and military premises in Tripoli or be ejected by force, apparently seeking to capitalise on the withdrawal of militias from Benghazi and Derna.
The two main Islamist militias in Derna, a town in eastern Libya known as an Islamist stronghold, said on Saturday that they were disbanding in the town, a day after one of them, Ansar al-Sharia, was driven out of Libya’s second city, Benghazi.
The many militias, most of them ex-rebels, that control Libya’s streets more than a year after Moammar Gadhafi was toppled are the clearest sign of the weakness of a central government that has been unable to control them and, worse, relies on many of them to provide security.
The killing of four Americans including the ambassador in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11 seems to have given the nascent democratic government a cue to rally support and channel public frustration with the armed groups.
Some US officials have accused the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia of involvement in the attack, a charge it denies.
Ansar al-Sharia, opposed to democracy, is one of the groups that have operated outside the nominal Defence Ministry umbrella that covers ex-rebels approved — and needed — by the government.
“The army chief Yussef al-Mangoush and (national assembly leader) Mohammed Magarief have ordered all illegitimate militias should be removed from compounds and hand over their weapons to the national army,” said Adel Othman al-Barasi, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry.
“A committee made up by the military police has been formed to take over the compounds and the weapons and hand these over to the army.”
He said the army had already evicted a militia from a military complex on the highway leading to Tripoli airport on Sunday, and that all such handovers had been done “peacefully”.