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Libyan PM: Gaddafi loyalists behind security deterioration | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Libyan Prime Minister Dr Abdurrahim El-Keib has denied the possibility of postponing the legislative elections scheduled to be held in Libya later this year, stressing the ability of the Libyan transitional government to manage and secure these elections.

In a telephone interview conducted with Asharq Al-Awsat from Tripoli, where El-Keib had returned following a visit to the city of Sabha in southern Libya, where bloody clashes have taken place, the Libyan Prime Minister accused henchmen and agents – affiliated to the former regime of the late Muammar Gaddafi – of being behind the security and military unrest in various parts of Libya.

El-Keib said that his government intends to send a new message to countries currently harboring such people – including remnants of Gaddafi’s family who are living in Algeria and Niger, to extradite them to the Libyan authorities in order to put a stop to their activities against the Libyan revolution and people.

El-Keib’s statements have come amid concerns of the possibility that the current security and military deterioration in Libya may lead to the postponement of the legislative elections, which are expected to take place in the country for the first time since the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime and his death last October. Certain members of the Libyan Transitional Council had previously revealed an inclination to postpone these elections, but El-Keib told Asharq Al-Awsat that his government is pressing ahead with its task of preparing for the legislative elections to be held on schedule in June.

The Libyan Prime Minister revealed that the government and the Transitional Council have sent a high-level delegation to an area in western Libya that has been witnessing bloody clashes over the past two days, between rival militias using mortar fire and anti-aircraft guns. Libyan sources said that the latest round of clashes, which took place in the vicinity of the town of Zuwara on the Mediterranean coast, about 120 kilometers west of Tripoli, resulted in 14 dead and around 80 wounded. This sheds light on the state of instability that has engulfed Libya since the end of the uprising that terminated Gaddafi’s reign last year.

Dr. Muhammad Al-Hurayzi, an official spokesman for the Transitional Council, explained that fighting broke out over the past two days as a result of a dispute between some factions in the town of Zuwara and others in the town of Al-Jumail, against the backdrop of the arrest of a number of Zuwara revolutionaries as they passed through the town. Al-Hurayzi pointed out that the Council immediately sent three of its members to the two cities and the conflict was settled, with the detainees being released, but after the agreement some elements affiliated to the Zuwara revolutionaries opened fire.

According to al-Hurayzi, gunfire resumed between the two sides on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, with 4 casualties and 35 others wounded from the Zuwara sode, and 10 killed with 45 others wounded from Al-Jumail and Regdalin.

A delegation from the Transitional Council – led by its deputy chairman and a number of members who represent Zuwara, Al-Jumail, Regdalin, Zawiya, and Sabratha – commenced a visit to the area in an attempt to calm down the situation and resolve the conflict. The delegation was split into two parts; the first went to Zuwara and the second to Al-Jumail and Regdalin. In addition to these political moves, the General Staff of the Libyan Army sent military troops to serve as a disengagement force between the conflicting parties, and to control the border crossings.

The Transitional Council said in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat that it “calls upon on all the Libyans and all their components to preserve national cohesion, exercise self-restraint, rise above marginal and personal conflicts, and not resort to violence or weapons to solve the outstanding issues that stem from a commitment to the constants and objectives of the great 17th February Revolution”. However, the Council’s statement also included tacit criticism of the transitional government. The statement called upon the government, particularly the defense and interior ministries, to quickly deal with these crises and problems, which have recurred in recent days, and to work with full force and resilience to pursue the perpetrators who intend to destabilize the security and stability of the country. The statement added: “We remind the government of the correspondence sent by the Council on the 29th March, which underlined the need to accelerate the process of placing the state’s land, marine, and air crossings under its full control, and to find quick solutions in order to accommodate the revolutionaries, collect weapons, and enhance the military and security establishment so that it is able to maintain security and ensure peace throughout the country.”

Local residents reported that the clashes around Zuwara took place between fighters from inside the town, which is mainly inhabited by members of the Amazigh minority, and militias belonging to Al-Jumail and Raqadlin; two towns that are inhabited by Arabs. Iyoub Sofian, a member of the Zuwara local council, told Reuters: “There are still some clashes. In the past 20 minutes we’ve been hit by about 14 mortars and some anti-aircraft fire from Al-Jumail and Regdalin.” An official from the supreme security committee of the Libyan government confirmed that clashes have taken place, without providing details. No one from Al-Jumail and Raqadlin was immediately available for comment.

Like most of the violence that erupts in Libya, the most recent clashes began with a small incident that quickly escalated, in light of the fact that there is no appropriate security force to keep order, while there is an abundance of weapons in circulation. A Libyan Interior Ministry official claimed that a group of men from Zuwara were hunting when they opened fire by mistake on an Al-Jumail resident. The hunting group was detained last Sunday and then freed after a few hours. However, Iyoub Sofian revealed that torture marks were evident on the bodies of the men who were freed, and this angered Zuwara’s inhabitants and provided the spark for the fighting.

Zuwara is located on the highway between Tripoli and Tunis. It is noteworthy that the Tunisian security forces reported that the border crossing point of Ras Ajdir, which is 60 kilometers west of Zuwara, was operating normally yesterday.

Meanwhile, a memorandum of security cooperation was signed in Tripoli yesterday between Libyan Justice Minister Fawzi Abdel A’al and Italian Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri, at the end of their session of bilateral talks. The memorandum of understanding, according to the Libyan News Agency, calls for the formation of a joint security committee that convenes periodically to assess bilateral cooperation, and to follow up on the implementation of recommendations issued by the regional ministerial conference on border security.

The memorandum also calls for cooperation in the field of training and qualifying security elements affiliated with the Interior Ministry, providing technical assistance for border surveillance, cooperation on the issue of providing shelter and deporting illegal refugees to their original countries, and facilitating the exchange of communication and information between the two countries’ security services on the activities of organized gangs.

Meanwhile, thousands of Libyans have crossed the two border crossing points with Tunisia in recent days, according to sources from the Red Crescent.

A Libyan official told AFP that “It [has been] a rush in recent days,” explaining that on Monday, 5,000 Libyans crossed the Ras Ajdir border point; the largest border crossing between the two countries. He also said that “people needed to come to get a break. They are coming for a vacation or for treatment in Tunisia,” pointing out that the atmosphere is tense in Libya.

Furthermore, around 4,000 Libyans have also crossed the border point of Dehiba (southern Tunisia) since last Saturday, according to the Tunisian News Agency, which quoted security sources attributing the influx of Libyans to the tense situation in the Libyan area of Zuwara, which is approximately 60 kilometers from the Tunisian border.

In Brussels, the European Commission yesterday announced that Libyan Airlines airplanes will not be allowed to enter European airspace at least until November, due to fears related to Libyan Airlines’ air safety surveillance.