- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A senior Libyan official says a “miscommunication” was responsible for militia shutting down Tripoli’s international airport on Monday, the latest challenge to the interim government’s authority.

A “miscommunication took place between people,” Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur told The Washington Times.

Militia members from Tarhouna, a city southeast of Tripoli, stormed the airport and demanded the release of their leader, who they said had been detained by security forces in the Libyan capital. Several flights were canceled or diverted because of the incident.

The militia’s commander was kidnapped by other militiamen, not security forces, according to a Libyan official who spoke on background. Airport operations resumed Tuesday after security forces retook control.

However, the incident underscored the government’s feeble control and the threat posed by militias that refuse to join the state’s security apparatus.

Human rights groups have accused some militias of behaving as if they are above the law and torturing detainees suspected of being loyal to the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s family.

Mr. Abushagur said the militias have good intentions.

“These people are willing to be part of the system they are just saying that ‘We would like to make sure that nobody will steal our revolution away from us,’” said Mr. Abushagur, who is on a trip to Washington.

“Our plan is to give them other opportunities most of them are very responsible,” he said.

The problem of the militias has been compounded by the fact that Libya is awash with weapons left over from the revolution that ousted the Gadhafi regime last year.

The U.S. has committed to providing $40 million to secure and recover the weapons stockpiles.

However, the Libyan government has not agreed to the U.S. proposal to buy shoulder-fired man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADs, in an effort to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Many of the militias are reluctant to relinquish the weapons.

“We are as concerned as the U.S. government about the MANPADs. We don’t want them to fall into the wrong hands, but we are very careful not to get into buying arms because the moment we do that we don’t know what arms are going to come into the country,” said Mr. Abushagur.

“[Libya] may become a place where people go to sell arms to the government. We are trying to resolve these issues without going in that direction,” he added.

Story Continues →