- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2013

France will host a meeting next week to address growing concerns over the dire security situation in Libya, a French official said on Tuesday.

The ministerial-level meeting, to be held in Paris next Tuesday, will focus on security, justice and rule of law in Libya, the French official said in a background phone interview.

The U.S., Britain, Libya, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are among the countries that will participate in the meeting. The European Union, UN and Gulf Cooperation Council will also be represented.

The goal of the meeting is to “help Libya be true to the principles of the revolution” that ousted Libyan strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011, said the French official. “It is a long overdue meeting.”

France was at the forefront of international efforts to topple Gadhafi’s regime and was the first government to recognize the rebels’ National Transitional Council.

Fifteen months after Gadhafi was killed by rebels in his hometown of Sirte, Libya remains unstable. Western officials have become alarmed by the deteriorating security situation in the North African nation. “Security [in Libya] is not what it should be,” said the French official.

In Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate on Sept. 11. British and Italian diplomats have also been attacked in the city.

In January, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada urged their citizens to leave Benghazi.

The security situation is strained by heavily armed militias, most of them remnants of the revolutionary brigades that fought against Gadhafi’s forces, that now operate across Libya as a law unto themselves.

Parts of Libya, especially the east and south, have also become safe havens for Islamist militants.

“Gadhafi did many bad things, but one good thing he did was to keep a lid on all these problems,” said Karim Mezran, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “Plus, he hated the Islamists. Since the fall of the regime, Libya has become an open space for everyone and parts of the country are now a safe haven for militants.”

Western officials are particularly worried that the French offensive in Mali will drive Islamist militants across Algeria’s porous borders and into Libya.

Libya’s weak government has struggled with these security challenges.

In Benghazi, residents want to kick militias that have not registered with the government out of the city; exclude all former Gadhafi regime officials from public office and move the headquarters of state institutions from Tripoli back to Benghazi. They have given the General National Congress until Feb. 15, the second anniversary of the revolution, to respond to these demands.

Large demonstrations are planned to mark the revolution’s anniversary.

“If the residents’ demands are not met by then, the protesters will turn against the government,” said Nabil Elhuni, who was born in Benghazi and now lives in the Philadelphia area.

After the attack on the U.S. Consulate, Benghazi residents demonstrated in large numbers against the militias, including the Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah, which has been blamed for the assault. Ansar al-Shariah was driven out of town and has since disintegrated into smaller jihadist groups that are even harder to control.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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