Armed groups clash in turf war near Tripoli airport
Sun Dec 11, 2011 6:02pm GMT
* Senior military commander involved in gunfight
* Army spokesman says 'rogue militia' attacked convoy
* Central government struggling to assert authority (Adds army spokesman,
deputy head of NTC)
By Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI, Dec 11 (Reuters) - A convoy carrying one of Libya's most senior
military leaders was involved in a gunfight between rival armed groups
overnight near Tripoli's international airport, local militia commanders
said on Sunday.
It was the latest in a series of clashes between rival militias which, in
the absence of a fully-functioning central government, wield the real power
on the streets in Libya since a revolt forced out former leader Muammar
Two commanders said the clashes began when a vehicle carrying Khalifa
Haftar, head of ground forces in the Libyan national army, approached a
checkpoint about 3 km from the airport which was manned by militiamen from
"Khalifa Haftar and his convoy came to the checkpoint and did not stop when
they were asked to," Colonel Mukhtar Fernana, who said his militia was at
the scene of the clashes, told Reuters.
"When they (the men at the checkpoint) tried to stop them, Haftar's guards
opened fire and injured two people," he said.
He said Haftar's convoy was then pursued to the nearby Hamza military camp,
which his forces were using as a base, and a second gunfight broke out. A
second militia commander, Abdullah Mohammed Attroudi, confirmed that
Ahmed Bani, a spokesman for the fledgling national army, said "rogue
militias" were to blame and that the government would redouble efforts to
clamp down on unofficial armed groups.
"Some rogue militias tried to attack General Haftar," Bani said. "An
investigation has started. The Libyan army will never let this matter happen
again ... We are going to clear the city of weapons."
Haftar himself could not be reached for comment on the incident.
He was one of the group of Libyan military officers who carried out the 1969
coup which brought Gaddafi to power. He later fell out with the former
Libyan leader, and spent the past 20 years living in the United States.
He returned to his native Benghazi, in eastern Libya, when the revolt broke
out there in February this year, and was a commander of anti-Gaddafi forces
in the east of the country.
The army spokesman said Haftar was now commander of ground forces. It was
unclear what that involved as the national army has not yet been officially
Earlier, a commander of the militia guarding the airport, Mukhtar Al-Akhdar,
said the gunfight broke out because a convoy of national army vehicles
arrived at the checkpoint and said it was taking over control of airport
He said the row was defused after intervention from Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the
head of Libya's interim leadership the National Transitional Council (NTC),
as well as from Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib and Defence Minister Osama
The airport has already been the focus of friction between rival militias.
It is patrolled by fighters from Zintan, a town about 160 km south-west of
Their control is resented by other groups, who say the Zintan militia should
hand over to central government institutions.
Libya's multitude of armed militias emerged from the fight to end Gaddafi's
rule. Nearly two months after the fighting ended, Libya's interim leadership
says it is time for the militias to hand over to the new national police and
Most militia leaders say publicly that they are ready to do so as soon as
they receive the order from the NTC.
But the national police and army are still being formed, and squabbling over
who will hold the key posts could heighten the tensions between the militias
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the NTC, said that two of the militias
in Tripoli had already been given a date by which they should leave the
"Once the army is rebuilt, the NTC will make a declaration for the
submission of weapons and for individuals to enter the army or security
forces," he said on Sunday in Doha. (Additional reporting by Regan Doherty
in Doha; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
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Received on Sun Dec 11 2011 - 16:24:00 EST