Libya descends into militia chaos as hostages still held

The Sydney Morning Herald reports: As the casualties mount from fresh clashes in southern Libya between soldiers and tribesmen, the security situation in the capital Tripoli, Zintan, Misrata and the eastern city of Benghazi remains shaky as militia groups extend their control.

Militia from former rebel strongholds have mounted a series of attacks over the last week, including a blast at the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Misrata on Tuesday.

A convoy carrying the British ambassador to Libya was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Benghazi on Monday, and days earlier, a rocket-propelled grenade was also fired at the US consulate in the eastern city. Two weeks ago, the international airport in Tripoli was seized by armed militia.

In the midst of this instability that has plagued Libya since the revolution that ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, a delegation from the International Criminal Court, including Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor and her Lebanese-born interpreter Helene Assaf, was detained in Zintan on June 7.

Ms Taylor was in Zintan to visit Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who has been held by the Zintani militia since they captured him in November last year. The ICC charged Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, and Libya’s former intelligence chief Abdullah al- Senussi with crimes against humanity.

Ms Taylor and her ICC colleagues have been placed in “preventive detention” for 45 days as Libya investigates the alleged threats to its national security the Zintanis claim she committed.

“We have had a steady deterioration of the security situation in Libya in the past couple of weeks,” said Dr Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, head of Middle East and North Africa Program at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

“The proliferation of the militia is one of the key elements destabilising Libya – they are young men roaming around, heavily armed and with a sense of entitlement about the paternity of the revolution.

“This should have been tamed by the NTC months ago and the militia channelled into civilian organisations.”

Libya is at a crossroads, Dr Ould Mohamedou said, and the continuing threats from the militia calls into question the authority of the national interim government that operates under the auspices of the National Transitional Council.

He says Tripoli is in danger of becoming like Baghdad in 2005, with different groups controlling turf and instituting neighbourhood political economies. The government’s decision to delay elections for a national congress scheduled for June 19 until July 7 was a symptom of the chaos.

“To be fair to Libya and to the NTC, these are not easy issues, this cannot be engineered overnight – there were no political parties, no civil structures – in effect Gaddafi left a booby-trapped society.”

But the NTC had contributed to the deteriorating security situation by repeatedly capitulating to the militia and as a result, he said, it was “losing its grip on the situation as the months go by”. [Continue reading…]

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