TRIPOLI, (Reuters) – Libyan leader Mohammed Magarief has said not all areas of the North African country have been fully “liberated”, one year after the capture and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya was declared “liberated” a few days after his death on October 20, 2011, and while its new rulers have led the nation to elections, they have struggled to impose their authority on a country awash with weapons.
Speaking on Libyan television late on Friday, the national congress leader singled out the town of Bani Walid, some 160 kms (100 miles) south of Tripoli, a former Gaddafi stronghold which has seen deadly clashes in the last few days as the army struggles to impose order.
“The campaign to liberate the country has not been fully completed,” Magarief said.
He cited “delays” in the formation of the army and police and the failure to disarm and integrate former rebels.
“This lack of care has led to the spread of chaos that has lured the old regime to infiltrate the country’s institutions inside and to conspire with the regime loyalists on the outside,” Magarief said.
“And the chaos has lured others to kidnappings, stealing, and to create non-legitimate prisons. What has happened in Bani Walid in the last few days falls under this … it has become a safe haven for a large number of those who are outside of the law.”
Militias, aligned with the Defence Ministry, have shelled the hilltop town of 70,000 for several days and a spokesman for Bani Walid fighters, Colonel Salem al-Wa’er said fighting had started again on Saturday morning.
Many of those in the militias were from the rival town of Misrata, which was enraged by the death of rebel fighter Omran Shaban after two months in detention in Bani Walid.
Shaban, from Misrata, was the man who found Gaddafi hiding in a drain pipe in Sirte on October 20, 2011.
Libya’s congress ordered the Defence and Interior Ministries to find those responsible for abducting Shaban and suspected of torturing him to death. It gave Bani Walid a deadline to hand them over.
The army chief of staff said on Thursday the army was heading to the town to try and restore order.
“This is not targeting a region, a tribe, or unarmed civilians but outlawed men,” Magarief said.
Tensions between Misrata and Bani Walid underscore the challenge Libya’s new rulers face in reconciling groups with long-running grievances.
While Misrata spent weeks under siege by Gaddafi forces in last year’s war, Bani Walid was one of the towns that remained loyal to Gaddafi longest. It remains isolated from the rest of Libya and former rebels say it still harbors pockets of support for the old government.