Libya’s leader has acknowledged that his transitional government is powerless to control militias that are refusing to lay down their arms after ousting Muammar Qaddafi as it struggles to impose control over the oil-rich North African nation.
In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Mustafa Abdul Jalil warned that remnants of the former regime also still pose a threat and it will take years for Libya’s new leaders to overcome a “heavy heritage” of corruption and distrust after more than four decades of Gadhafi's rule.
Abdul Jalil said the governing National Transitional Council has made mistakes, but he also criticized former rebels who have formed powerful militias and local governments that have emerged as rivals to the Tripoli-based central government that assumed power after Gadhafi was ousted.
“Both are to blame,” he said. “The governmental program to integrate the militias is slow and the revolutionaries don't trust it.”
Libya is celebrating the first anniversary of the Feb. 17 start of the revolution last year when peaceful anti-government protesters took up weapons in the face of a deadly crackdown by Qaddafi’s forces against their rallies. Libya declared liberation after Qaddafi was captured and killed in October and is getting ready for national assembly elections in June. The new assembly will form a government and set up a panel to draft a constitution.
However, the country has been plagued by revenge attacks by those who suffered at the hands of Qaddafi’s forces during the brutal civil war. Human rights groups have documented reports of widespread torture and killings of detainees.
Hundreds of armed militias that fought against Qaddafi’s forces are the real power on the ground in the country, wielding control over cities, neighborhoods and borders while the transitional government has been unable to rein in fighters, rebuild decimated institutions or stop widespread corruption.
Underscoring the turmoil, some 50 civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours in tribal warfare in southern Libya, witnesses said Tuesday. But there were conflicting accounts about the cause of the conflict.
Abdul Jalil said Qaddafi’s regime loyalists were “seeding sedition” in Kufra but declined to elaborate on which of the tribes are connected to the former regime.
Salem Samadi, who heads a revolutionary militia and has tried to mediate a truce between the two sides, blamed the outbreak of violence on a fight over smuggling.
Abdul Jalil, 60, who has led the NTC since it was formed in opposition, said Libyans need years to overcome a culture of corruption, mistrust and build state institutions and rule of law.
“What Qaddafi left for us in Libya after 40 years is a very, very heavy heritage,” he said, speaking in his office in Tripoli. “It is very heavy and will be hard to get over it in one or two years or even five years.”
He also said that Qaddafi’s relatives and loyalists remain a danger because they are hosted by countries that don't have control over them. He didn’t name the countries but said that Libya’s future relations with neighbors will be determined by how they respond to Libyan demands to hand over former regime forces on their territories.
As the Libyan capital of Tripoli fell to rebel forces, Qaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, her mother and two of her brothers fled to neighboring Algeria, while another son al-Saadi and dozens of senior military officers went to Niger.
“We have to take a strong stance with neighbors,” he said.
Libyan officials were angered earlier this month when al-Saadi Qaddafi, who Niger says is under house arrest, warned in a television interview that his homeland was facing a new uprising. Qaddafi’s son told Al Arabiya in a telephone interview that supporters of his father’s ousted regime “are suffering tremendously” in Libyan prisons at the hands of the country’s new rulers. He also said his return to Libya was imminent.
Abdul Jalil also said that Qaddafi loyalists have infiltrated revolutionary forces and even formed their own militia.
“We call them the revolutionaries after the revolution,” he said.
With regard to the upcoming national assembly elections, Abdul Jalil said the council will issue a new law banning foreign funding for political parties. Islamists in Libya have been linked to oil-rich gulf country of Qatar, which was a favorite exile for top Libyan Islamists, including those from the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Within 10 days, we will issue rules ... banning receiving funds from outside the country,” he said. Abdul Jalil has said he won’t run in the presidential race or seek a future political role.
Abdul Jalil, who was justice minister under Qaddafi when he defected to the rebels’ side, said the NTC has been paralyzed by the need for consensus in decision making and that has stopped it from carrying out much-needed reforms.
“We committed many mistakes,” he said. “Democracy and taking votes to make decision in many, many incidents led us to these mistakes,” he said. “My vote as someone who entered the council last year is considered equal to a vote of a member who joined the council this February.”
Abdul Jalil enjoys a great amount of popularity in Libya, but he has increasingly been criticized for lacking leadership skills and the inability to take decisive measures.
Mohammed Abdullah, a leading member of Libya National Salvation front, a longtime opposition movement that is transforming itself into a political party, said that was true of all members of the NTC.
“The way the NTC is run is just similar to the old regime with no vision,” he said.
Despite his complaints about the inability to rein in armed fighters, Abdul Jalil paid homage to the sacrifices of fighters in cities that suffered most during the revolution, particularly Misrata.
He said the failure to seriously investigate Qaddafi-era war atrocities as well as the absence of police and courts has left the door open for individuals to take matters into their own hands. Even families who were not linked to Qaddafi regime but fled during the war have been tagged as traitors and forced to leave their houses when they returned.
“Misrata suffered the most, more than any other city but it is also going too far in enmity and expulsions,” he said. “Dealing with victorious soldiers is much harder than dealing with the ones defeated.”