Security in the capital may experience a deterioration in the lead up to the deadline for militia groups to return to their home-towns, as well as another for members of the Tripoli Brigade to give up their arms. There have already been a number of demonstrations in the capital in support of the government’s stance on militias and these could intensify as the deadline approaches.
Benghazi will remain calm, but there is a risk of demonstrations over working conditions and by local tribal groups who feel they are under-represented in the National Transitional Council (NTC).
There will be a continued risk of lawlessness throughout the country as the NTC attempts to disarm the various regional militia groups and bring them under the control of the Interior Ministry.
Gunfights broke out near the international airport on 11 December when militiamen opened fire on the convoy of army chief Major-General Khalifa Haftar. The initial incident was followed by hours of armed clashes, with army officials claiming that former rebel militiamen from the Zintan brigade were responsible for the initial attack. Tensions are likely to increase further in the capital as a deadline for militia groups to return home moves closer.
Around 2,000 people turned out for demonstrations calling for former rebel militia groups to leave the city. Demonstrators complained of the proliferation of weapons and claimed they feel unsafe in the capital as some militiamen were becoming increasingly lawless. AKE sources on the ground have reported incidents of militia groups carrying out vigilante justice since they took control of the city from pro-Gaddafi forces in August, something which has added to the atmosphere of insecurity. Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib also stated that troublemakers have been posing as former rebel fighters.
The head of Tripoli’s local council, Abdul Rafik Bu Hajjar, said on 6 December that residents of the city had until the end of December to give up their weapons to the authorities. Hajjar stated that brigades of revolutionary fighters would leave by 20 December, while the Tripoli Brigade will be dissolved by 31 December. The move is aimed at preventing rebel militias from clashing and carrying out their own form of justice, as well as preventing clashes between different militia groups.
Prime Minister al-Keib also held a meeting with the Tripoli Local Council on the issue, the objective of which was to agree on a process to encourage militias to either leave the city or integrate into official military or law enforcement bodies. One of the measures being taken is the establishment of roadblocks and checkpoints in many parts of the Tripoli by local military councils that will prevent the movement of any armed vehicles except those of the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Defence.
Although a number of militia leaders have now stated that they have ordered their fighters to return to their home towns – militias from Misrata and the Nafusa Mountains region represent the largest militia factions in the capital – the issue may well cause further tensions over the coming month, particularly as the deadline approaches. There is a continued risk of clashes between rival militias, particularly those who feel it is their right to stay and safeguard the transition. Demonstrations in support of the NTC position may also continue over the coming weeks.
AKE assess that the security situation in Benghazi is positive, however, the risk of petty crime is an ongoing cause for concern. Benghazi is not affected by the presence of rebel militias from outside the city, as is currently the case in Tripoli, as it was liberated early on in the conflict against pro-Gaddafi forces. Responsibility for security has been assumed by local militia groups ever since.
There is a risk of demonstrations in the city, protesting against decisions by the NTC that are perceived as alienating certain sections of society or calling for improved working conditions among a number of sectors, as have been seen in recent weeks.
Dehiba Border Crossing
Tunisia closed border crossing points with Libya on 4 December following clashes between militiamen and border guards at the Dehiba border crossing, which leads to the Nafusa Mountains region. The main crossing at Ras Ajidir was also closed following the clash, which led Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur to promise measures will be put in place to secure both crossings. The incident is the latest example of lawlessness and violence on the part of the former rebel militia groups, who the government is attempting to disarm and incorporate into the country’s military and police forces.
Ras Ajidir Border Crossing
Former rebel forces reportedly relinquished control of the Ras Ajidir border crossing with Tunisia on 5 December, handing responsibility over to forces of the Ministry of Interior. The move came after Tunisia closed both the Ras Ajidir and Dehiba border crossings following clashes between former rebel militiamen and Tunisian border guards. Keeping the border with Tunisia open is a major priority for the NTC as it acts as a major supply route connecting Tripoli to Tunisia.
Alan Fraser is a Libya specialist with AKE, a British risk mitigation company working in Libya throughout the crisis. You can access AKE’s intelligence website Global Intake here.