Libya brigades promise to turn over strategic sites

TRIPOLI, Dominique Soguel- Libyan militias who helped oust Moamer Kadhafi have promised to turn over to the interim government strategic sites, such as airports and border crossings, that they have held since capturing them in last year's uprising.
The commitments were made as the government in Tripoli struggles to exert its control over the country, and as Libya's proposed national charter was unveiled at a conference in Misrata ahead of June elections to a constituent assembly that will finalise a new constitution.

Libya brigades promise to turn over strategic sites
On the final day Thursday of the Misrata meeting, attended by dozens of civic leaders from across Libya, there was widespread rejection of a federal state as proposed by tribal and political activists in Benghazi earlier this week.
"Libya is one, only one," became the mantra at the closing of a conference, which was televised.
Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil had said on Wednesday that the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) would use force, if necessary, to preserve the unity of the country.
Rights groups warn that unbridled militias pose the greatest challenge to stability in the north African nation, which is seeking to build state institutions from scratch after four decades of dictatorship under Kadhafi.
Many sensitive sites, including the Tripoli airport and official buildings, remain under the control of so-called revolutionary brigades.
This and a unilateral move to declare the oil-rich east an autonomous territory has put pressure on the NTC to tighten its grip.
But in a boost for the country's interim leaders, fighters with the Zintan brigade, which controls Tripoli's international airport, said in a statement this week that they were ready to hand over their turf.
"We are ready to hand over airports secured by Zintan revolutionaries," they said in a joint statement received by AFP, without specifying when.
And at the conference in the Mediterranean port city of Misrata, Libya's third largest, brigade and tribal commanders promised to hand over sites to state authorities without delay.
"We are ready to hand over our checkpoints on the southern borders," said a tribal and military representative from the southern town of Waw al-Kabir.
"Even though there are remnants of Kadhafi's regime in Niger, the borders of Libya cannot be crossed," he said sparking thunderous applause.
There are more than 50 airports in Libya, with every city boasting one, as well as air bases and landing strips in smaller towns and at oil fields.
Tribal leader Ahmed Abdel Jalil al-Hisnawi said his people were ready to hand over the airport of Wadi al-Shati, near the southern city of Sabha.
"The brigade of Abedad announces its adhesion to the ministry of defence," declared its commander.
Another commander said "the brigade of Daraa al-Janub is willing to hand over its border checkpoints to the government without delay."
Meanwhile, Yussef bin-Yussef, head of Misrata's civil council, told AFP talks were underway in the city on the subject of handing over control of all ports of entry, including the airport, to the NTC.
"Revolutionaries agree to handing over control of the entry ports," he said, adding that details and the schedule for that transfer of responsibility would be determined in the coming weeks.
The head of a regional council seeking to carve out an autonomous territory in oil-rich east Libya said late on Thursday that he accepted the interim national leader's call for dialogue.
"We accept the National Transitional Council's dialogue invitation," Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi told journalists in the eastern city of Benghazi.
At a conference in Benghazi on Tuesday that was attended by thousands, tribal and political leaders unilaterally declared the region of Cyrenaica (Berqa in Arabic) autonomous, prompting fears that the country might split up.
Earlier this week, Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali told AFP his "greatest challenges" were taking over state institutions and border controls, currently in the hands of revolutionary brigades, and monitoring borders.
He said the problem is two-fold: some groups resist leaving but the embryo state also lacks the capacity to assume all responsibilities, including the patrol of vast borders, without the help of the brigades.
"The EU needs to help us -- it is in their interest too," he said.
From Friday, Libya is hosting a four-day regional conference on common security that is expected to focus on the issue of border controls, according to the foreign ministry.

Friday, March 9th 2012
Dominique Soguel

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