TRIPOLI (Reuters) - More Libyan militias handed their bases over to the army and withdrew from Tripoli on Thursday in the face of popular anger against former fighters who have refused to disarm since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Libyans have become increasingly frustrated with the gangs of ex-fighters who remain loyal to their commanders in turf wars, rivalries and personal disputes even after the government put them on its payroll to provide security in Tripoli.
The withdrawal of militiamen from the capital was triggered by clashes last week in which more than 45 people were killed after gunmen from one militia opened fire on protesters marching on their base to demand they leave the city.
One Islamist brigade in the Supreme Security Committee militia said on Thursday it would leave Mittiga airbase and across Tripoli, the powerful Zintan’s al Qaqaa brigades handed over their base, Reuters reporters and officials said.
“After what happened left week, these men chose to leave voluntarily to avoid more bloodshed. They know the people are determined and that they want police and army instead,” said Yusef al-Qatos, a spokesman for the Libyan air force.
The withdrawal of the militiamen, who carved up the city into rival fiefdoms and often fought street battles, leaves security of the Libyan capital mostly in the hands of the nascent armed forces and police.
Since the fall of Gaddafi two years ago, militias have often clashed in Tripoli and Benghazi. The army and police are still in training and are no match for the heavily armed former fighters in a country awash with illegal arms.
Militias from Misrata, including the Gharghour Brigades involved in Friday’s clashes, withdrew from Tripoli on Monday after Misrata city leaders called for them to leave.
Western powers are concerned about anarchy in the OPEC oil producer and have promised more aid and training for Libya’s fledgling armed forces in an attempt to stop further insecurity spilling into the region.
Militias are not only a challenge in Tripoli. For months, former fighters once employed to guard oil sites have taken over oil ports in the east to disrupt Libya’s crude exports in protests for regional autonomy.
Reporting by Ghaith Shennib; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Angus MacSwan