By Associated Press - Sunday, December 11, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s military said Sunday that ex-rebels have tried for a second time to assassinate the country’s new army commander, as the two groups clashed near the capital’s airport. The rebels denied the claim.

Sgt. Abdel-Razik el-Shibahy, an army spokesman, said fighters from the western mountain town of Zintan opened fire on two occasions on Saturday on the convoy of Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the commander of the newly rebuilt army. He said a guard was killed and four others wounded in the second attack.

The spokesman said the Zintan fighters mistakenly believed that the army was coming to attack them at the airport, which they have occupied shortly after revolutionaries captured the capital from Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in August.

“Zintan rebels opened fire on the convoy from left, right and front. … They think that the army wants to take over the airport, but this is not the case,” he said.

The clashes were the latest in a series of violent incidents in the capital that illustrate the difficulties faced by Libya’s transitional leaders in compelling the militias which overthrew Gadhafi to submit to the new government’s authority.

The army says that it is trying to persuade ex-rebel militias to return to their homes and, if possible, to enlist in its ranks. It has stopped short of demanding their weapons until the interim government can deliver on promises of jobs and training.

The army leadership appears to have the support of many Libyans who are tired of militia-versus-militia clashes and unaccountable young men carrying guns, but the ex-rebels say that the military is too poorly organized for them to submit to its authority.

“Until now, we don’t know anything about the Libyan national army. Who is in charge? Where are the military bases? What is its chain of command, or even how can rebels join it?” said Khaled el-Zintani, spokesman for the Zintan fighters. “On the ground, the so-called national army is nothing yet.”

He denied that the rebel fighters had tried to kill Gen. Hifter, blaming the clashes on the general’s failure to notify them that he was coming.

“What do you expect fighters to do when a heavily armed military convoy tries to pass checkpoints without previous notification?” he said.

Mr. el-Zintani said that rebels are ready to hand the airport to a government agency “only if it is capable of protecting the airport from intrusions.”

Mukhtar al-Akhdar, the Zintan fighters’ commander at the airport, also rejected the army’s authority.

“If this is a real army, why don’t they go protect the borders instead of trying to take over the airport?” he said.

Gen. Hifter was named to replace military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis, who was killed in late July. Rebels insisted it was the work of Gadhafi’s regime, but several witnesses said Younis was killed by fellow rebels.

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