By George Grant.
London, 23 September:
All brigades in Benghazi are to come under full control of the National Army, following an agreement that was struck between leading political and military figures together with local militia heads last night.
Officers from the Army are to be deployed to every militia barracks in Benghazi to assume full command, whilst several of the brigades involved in recent unrest, including Ansar Al-Sharia, are to be disbanded altogether.
“The objective is to bring the militia under full control of the government”, said Ahmed Shalabi, a spokesman to Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur.
“We want to see them inside the law, not outside of the law”.
According to Salah Joudah, a leading Benghazi Congressman involved in the negotiations, Abushagur, National Congress Speaker Mohammed Magarief and Chief of Staff Yousef Mangoush were all present at the meeting with leading members of the Benghazi brigades.
Also in attendance were several Benghazi Congressmen, as well as representatives of the two biggest parties in Congress, the National Forces Alliance and the Justice and Construction Party.
“The negotiations concluded around midnight”, Joudah told the Libya Herald. “We made the order clear and everyone is in agreement.
“We had some tough talking with the brigades, but they understand, as we all do, that the situation in Libya now is different. We have to recognise what the people want and to listen to their demands”.
On Friday, between 30,000 and 40,000 demonstrators marched through Benghazi demanding an end to militia rule in the city.
The rally was held 10 days after the US Consulate and a nearby safe house in Benghazi were ransacked by an armed mob, leaving four Americans dead including the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.
The Ansar Al-Sharia brigade, an Islamist militia also believed to have been behind the bombing of the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi in June, was accused of involvement in the attacks, although the group has denied responsibility.
Following Friday’s rally, the brigade was driven out of its headquarters by demonstrators who set the compound ablaze before the Army arrived to take control.
Three other brigades were also targeted, the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, the Sidi Hussein Martyr’s brigade, and the the Abu Salim brigade, which has its headquarters in Derna.
Eleven people are now said to have been killed in the fighting, mostly in the assault on the Rafallah brigade, and scores more wounded.
The Libya Herald has also learned that the Army has taken control of the camps belonging to all four of these brigades, and that three of them are to be permanently disbanded.
Both Ansar Al-Sharia and the Abu Salim brigade in Derna have also agreed to disband.
The fourth, the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, is to be merged with the 17 February brigade, the largest militia in Benghazi and one already charged with much of the city’s security.
The 17 February brigade is one of those that has formally agreed to submit to full national army control, along with the Libya Shield brigade. The two are the most significant militias in Benghazi in terms of size and power.
Both brigades were already notionally under the authority of the government, but had hitherto maintained a separate command structure and operated with a significant degree of autonomy.
Questions still remain as to how easily this paper agreement will be translated into reality, although Congressman Joudah insists that army officers have already been deployed to various brigade headquarters across the city.
Nevertheless, several members of the militia targeted on Friday have previously aired their anger over what happened and accused elements within the armed forces of helping to orchestrate the attacks.
Yesterday, five members of the Army’s First Infantry brigade were discovered dead in Hawiya district, where the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade had its headquarters.
Six men were found with their hands tied behind their backs and bullet holes in their heads, although one survived and is said to be in a critical condition.
The identity of the assailants remains unknown, and no motive has been definitively attributed, but there have been suggestions that the killings were some form of reprisal.
There have also been unconfirmed reports of several officers and non-commissioned officers being arrested by militia, and the First Infantry brigade’s commander, Colonel Hamid Buheir, was briefly kidnapped yesterday but later released.
Shalabi says that he recognises there will be considerable resentment amongst members of the disbanded brigades, including Ansar Al-Sharia, but believes they recognise there is no turning back.
“I do not believe that they will resist just because they have guns. They have read the street’s message very well, and they recognise they have to go”.