Libya militia starts Tripoli withdrawal after clashes

TRIPOLI Mon Nov 18, 2013 12:27pm GMT

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan militia fighters blamed for the worst unrest in Tripoli since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in recent days began pulling out of the capital on Monday and Libyan army units moved in to secure their areas, government officials said.

Clashes between rival militias in Tripoli last week killed dozens of people, highlighting Libya's struggle to curb former fighters and hardline Islamists who refuse to disarm two years after helping oust Gaddafi in an uprising backed by NATO bombs.

The withdrawal of some of Libya's powerful militias from the capital may ease tensions temporarily. But Libya's nascent armed forces are still no match for the rival militias who control other parts of Tripoli and the country.

Militias from the coastal city of Misrata, who clashed with protesters on Friday and Saturday killing 46 people, began to withdraw to the east, including units from groups called Libya Shield and the Gharghour Brigades, a senior official said.

"Misrata troops in Tripoli have now retreated and are in the area between the two cities," said Saleh Jouda, a member of the security council of the country's parliament.

The defence ministry also said Libyan army units would move into the areas the Misrata militias controlled.

Tripoli was mostly calm on Monday with many stores, schools and universities closed in the capital in support of a strike called by the city's local leaders to demand the Misrata militiamen leave.

Kidnappers on Monday also freed Libya's deputy intelligence chief a day after he was abducted from Tripoli's international airport, a senior official said.

Militias and former fighters are often paid by the government to protect ministries and government offices. Many former fighters remain loyal to their commanders, tribes or towns and cities and often battle over the control of territory.

Western powers, including the United States, NATO allies and France, are offering more training and aid for Libya's military. The country's North African neighbours are increasingly worried about spillover from its militia chaos.

Militia fighters managed to disrupt Libya's oil exports in recent months, cutting off the government's main source of revenue and increasing fears that the country - scene of the only one of the "Arab Spring" revolts of 2011 to attract large-scale Western military support - was slipping into chaos.

(Reporting by Ghaith Shennib; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Peter Graff)

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