September 13, 2012 / 10:27 PM / 5 years ago

New Libyan premier to work "vigorously" on security

File photo of Libya's Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour speaking to Reuters in Tripoli June 19, 2012.Ismail Zitouny (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's new prime minister said he would strive to improve security by boosting the national police force and army as well as collecting weapons after a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in the east.

In an interview with Reuters, Mustafa Abu Shagour, voted chief of the next interim government late on Wednesday by the new ruling congress, said he would crack down on militias who have refused to lay down their arms and at times take the law into their own hands.

"We are going to work very vigorously in building our police force, our army and we are going to allow our young people, especially the revolutionaries ... an opportunity to become official members of our security forces," he said, referring to former rebel fighters.

"We have to deal with these militias because some of them have nothing to do with the revolution, and are made up of a bunch of criminals. We have to dismantle them."

Militias spearheaded the rebellion that ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule. While many have scaled back their activities, gone back to their hometowns or merged into national security services, others have yet to give up their arms.

The lack of an effective national police force and army mean many of the militias have more power on the ground than Libya's official rulers.

Tuesday's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador and three embassy staff were killed, has further highlighted Libya's security failings.

"We are going to have a vigorous programme to get the weapons back into the hands of the country," Abu Shagour said.

"We are going to have some incentives, also some restrictions, we are going to allow licensing for light arms for people to carry them but for heavy weapons they have to go back to the government, they will not be allowed on the streets."

Asked about how he could improve on his previous government's efforts to improve security, he said: "When the government came in, we didn't have institutions that we could build on, now we have some bases for that, that will give us far more ability to move on in the future.

"I think we have a far better understanding of it," he said.

ASSURING DIPLOMATS

He said he was "worried" about what had happened in Benghazi, and the new government needed to work on strengthening the police force in the city, the cradle of Libya's revolt and now a hotspot for violence.

Security experts say the area around the city is host to a number of Islamist militant groups who oppose any Western presence in Muslim countries. Abu Shagour said meetings had been held with foreign diplomats in light of Tuesday's attack.

"We assured them that we are going to do everything possible to protect them and we did increase the police forces around the embassies," Abu Shagour said. "They showed us they are going to be here and continue to support Libya."

Abu Shagour, a U.S.-trained academic, said that on top of security, his priorities were boosting the economy and services such as education and health.

His first task will be picking a cabinet. Asked if it would include members of the current government, he said: "Very few."

"I would like to include people from the other political parties, and at the same time I would like to have the geographical balance - this is very important for us."

Editing by Andrew Roche

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