By Umar Khan.
Tripoli, 8 January, 2013:
A committee has been formed by the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to determine the future of . . .[restrict]National Guard. It will recommend to either dissolve the organisation or to bring it under direct ministerial control. It will also advise on any new structure of the body and determine the nature of work it will do in the future.
The National Guard was founded a few weeks after the liberation of Tripoli by Khalid Sharif. He was former senior commander of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) that fought against the Qaddafi regime for over two decades.
It is under the Ministry of Defence and involved directly with the Border Guard, patrolling the borders and providing security to oil installations. It also helps the Judicial Police in interrogations and supervising many prisons. It are also tasked by the government to hold many high profile prisoners such as Qaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi and the regime’s former Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi along with many others.
Sharif, who is now being touted for the post of deputy defence minister, was imprisoned for seven years in Abu Salim prison by the former regime and was released under tough restrictions for a year but imprisoned again after the start of the revolution. He was freed after the liberation of Tripoli and straightway started to work with the Tripoli military council before founding the National Guard.
Sharif told the Libya Herald that the idea was to help accommodate large number of civilians with weapons into something closer to a police force or army to avoid any chaos and to bring armed people closer to some authority from the beginning. He said: “We modeled it after the National Guard in some other countries where they are under direct control of the head of state and are deployed to maintain law and order in different situations.
“We started it in the western and the southern regions at once and the response was great. The fighters wanted to come under some entity that was legitimate and we started accepting brigades and small groups”, he continued. “We ran a basic background check on everybody joining us and made sure that they were all clean, patriotic and had not fought for Qaddafi’s forces.”
He said that everybody knew they would not be getting paid for it but they happily volunteered. “We had no money and could only provide them with basic weapons and food. They were all very patriotic and wanted to work for their country and never complained.”
Asked if they received any support from the government Sharif said it was only after they joined the border guards that the ministry started paying them.
“We were not supported by the government till February 2012 when we joined the Border Guards but we kept working. We were the first people to respond to different clashes, especially the ones that took place in Sebha and the major event of Bani Walid in January last year”, he said. “Before this the only help we received was from fellow countrymen who were very generous to help us.”
The National Guard have some 10,000 fighters at its disposal most of which are working in the Border Guards. They joined the ministry forces in February last year but they will return once future of the National Guard is decided by the committee.
Sharif said that he would like the National Guard to stay as an independent body directly under the head of the state. “I hope they don’t put it under the Interior or Defence ministry but I’m not sure if this will happen. I would leave it for the committee to decide the new structure. The changes can then be made to the operational strategy. We are confident, that if government pays attention, in just one year the National Guard will become very professional.”
Asked if they had received complaints from the public about their units, he said that the National Guard units had not been involved in any clashes so far. “Everybody knows that our units are the most disciplined ones. We do receive some complaints from time to time and we take strict action against them so it is not repeated”, he said.
Sharif also said that they had not accepted any fighters from the Warrior Affairs Commission but that could change once the government made the decision about the future of the National Guard. “The regulations can be made later once we know in which direction the whole thing will go. Our units working with the Border Guards will also return and we can establish the mechanism of recruiting and training new cadets.
“It is all propaganda against us. We can never repeat to our prisoners what we have been through and we will always treat them according to our religion. They are allowed regular visits by their families as well,” noted Sharif, referring to the allegations of torture against the National Guard. He continued: “Our doors are open to Libyan Red Crescent and other national and international humanitarian organisations to make inquiries at any time.
“We don’t have the money to buy new uniforms and we are only using the (green colour) ones that we found in the bases. Many of the prisoners are wearing track-suits as we don’t have enough uniforms. This is the only reason he [Abdullah Senussi] was wearing a green coloured uniform,” said Sharif of his most high profile guest.
Asked if his trial will start soon he said, “I don’t think it will start anytime soon as he has a lot of information and will take time to finish the interrogation.”
Sharif also said that Senussi cooperated only when he wanted to and still thought Qaddafi was right in everything he did. He also said about the alleged escape attempt by Senussi that “he is wise enough not to escape the prison if he wants to live. Senussi is well aware that this prison is the safest place for him in all of Libya.”
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