Thursday, 19 January 2012

Libya: Bringing the militias to heel?

Maj Gen Mohamed Al-Mangoush certainly has his work cut out. His main task is to build the Libyan army into a credible force that can bring the militias under its control. Doing so will not be easy. As things currently stand, with its handful of small units, the army is a David to the militias' Goliath. Convincing powerful revolutionary leaders to hand in their weapons or to come under the command of national military officers is an uphill struggle and, unless the army gets some serious clout behind it, unlikely to succeed.

Meanwhile the violence continues. It is true that the militias have a reduced presence on the ground and that the number of checkpoints has been cut back. This does not mean, however, that the militias have stopped throwing their weight around. As the clashes that erupted this month demonstrate, in the absence of a strong authority rival militias continue to take the law into their own hands.

Moreover, the presence of so many armed young men with little else to do does not bode well for future security. Despite the schemes currently being devised by the new authorities to absorb militia members – such as the

Planning Ministry's recent proposal to pay those who join the official security structures a salary of LYD600 a month – there is still no indication that the national army is proving any more attractive than the militias.

As one young man from Benghazi who is still holed up in Tripoli explained, "It [the fighting] was really exciting and fun most of the time and I made some great friends!" The fact that hundreds of uniformed soldiers took to the streets this month and staged a demonstration outside the Central Bank branch in Benghazi to demand their salaries can have done little to help matters. The demonstrators declared that the new government should focus its attention on building a new army and not on giving cash rewards to the revolutionaries.

The police are doing little better than the army in the effort to recruit revolutionaries. According to one report, 24 hours after the police force opened its doors for militia members to sign up only 100 had done so.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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