Africa, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

Rebels March Into New Libya With a Hangover

ZAWIYAH, Libya, Mar 31 2012 (IPS) - A few hundred police cadets in ad hoc camouflage uniforms march up and down the grounds at a training centre in the coastal town Zawiyah. “You are the people protecting the revolution and symbol of our pride,” proclaims the scrawled writing on the wall behind them.

The police training camp at Zawiyah. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

The police training camp at Zawiyah. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

For these former rebel fighters – called “thuwar” in last year’s conflict against the Gaddafi regime – this is the final stage of a 45-day police basic training course run by the Ministry of Interior.

Integration of rebels into the Libyan national army and police, or their return to civilian life, is critically important to the country’s ability to navigate the fragile post-conflict period of elections, reconstruction and institution building.

But despite promises by militias like the Zintan and Misrata brigades to hand Tripoli’s security over to government authorities, deadlines have passed repeatedly.

Sporadic shootouts between militias and armed criminal activity in the capital are not uncommon, as well as violent protests by some rebels who did not receive a one-time payment by the transitional government – 4,000 Libyan Dinars (3,200 dollars) per family, or 2,400 LYD (1,900 dollars) per individual – for their role in the conflict.

“Because the government is still new, they are not strong enough to control the situation,” says Col. Yazin Fituri, operations head of the Tripoli Military Council, the coordinating body for the capital’s military brigades.

“The thuwar first hesitated to join the army, but now they have accepted the situation and would like to join,” he affirms, acknowledging a missed recent deadline to sign up. “Many times we discussed with the Misrata brigade to leave, and we started to talk with the Zintan on the same issue. We are trying to make it peaceful. We don’t want to fight with brothers.”

A further complication to the militias’ integration process is the uncoordinated and overlapping registration of rebels by key institutions.

The Warriors Affairs Commission for Rehabilitation and Development (WAC) was established during the conflict, with the prescient view that when the fighting stopped, rebels needed to be reintegrated back into society to avoid instability.

Regarded as a ‘human resources’ centre for former fighters, the WAC was intended as the first port of call for reintegration registration. The estimated 200,000 rebels in their database are given the choice to join the police or army, or to return to civilian life.

One qualification for registration is an ID that affirms the candidate belonged to a brigade. But there are allegations that some of those on the rolls were not genuine fighters in the uprising.

Starting this month the WAC will conduct interviews and skills training for civilian jobs, and evaluate those who might be suitable for the government armed forces.

The problem, says WAC deputy director Mohammed Shaeiter, is that the ministry of the interior and the ministry of defence pursued parallel registration processes without consulting the WAC first. “This creates confusion. They should have come to us first, before them. The MOI and MOD have not given us their lists yet, and we don’t know when they will.”

At Zawiyah’s training facility, Souhail Ali Milad, 25, is one of the police cadets with a monthly starting salary of 600 Libyan Dinars (480 dollars). He has been promised his first paycheck at the end of March.

The freshly painted barracks was a former military facility for the Gaddafi regime. It reopened in November after sustained damage by NATO bombing and looting. There was fierce fighting in this strategic Mediterranean town, 30 miles west of Tripoli.

Since Gaddafi’s state security infrastructure was mostly destroyed, makeshift bases like Zawiyah’s double up to accommodate both army and police cadets across the country. This site, rebuilt with local council and private funds, has rudimentary equipment, and lacks sleeping quarters.

“The goal is to bring the thuwar to the training centre,” says veteran army commander Ramadan Shnety, who runs the facility. “But the army has not been paid so far. This does not encourage thuwar to sign up.”

The MOI and MOD have agreed upon an initial estimated force of 25,000 men each to secure this vast, oil- rich desert country of just over six million people. “The army will be strong, and won’t let the militias act on their own accord,” says MOD spokesman Col. Adel El Barrassi.

In a new building downtown, Col. Jamal Ibrahim Safar spearheads the MOI’s strategic development and coordination team. He says more than half the police force will be trained outside of Libya.

Jordan is committed to mentor up to 10,000 police, with Turkey, Italy, France and Sudan pitching in with specialty training like border surveillance and election security. Key advisors include the United Nations, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.

Border security was highlighted at a governmental regional conference this month in Tripoli. The threat of weapons proliferation, Al Qaeda groups and undocumented refugees headed to Europe topped the agenda. But the actual size of the force is undecided; as is the ministry it will report to.

“This is the million dollar question right now, because the MOD and MOI are sort of fighting over this issue,” says a U.S. embassy official in an interview with IPS. “Sometimes it looks like they’ve reached a resolution, and sometimes they haven’t.”

The U.S. Army Command (AFRICOM) has an increasing presence across the region. “We’re looking for ways in which we can be helpful,” says AFRICOM commander Gen. Carter Ham.

“I think the Libyans and U.S. would like to see improvements in Libya’s border security infrastructure, and there is a real need to develop some sort of border security force to provide the training and the equipment.

“Libya in general is part of AFRICOM’s sphere, and I think the Libyan government really welcomes the idea of a robust military to military relationship with the U.S.,” the official adds. “They appreciate the value added having a strong relationship with the U.S., so we are just in the very initial phases now of figuring out what that means.”

At the Tripoli Military Council offices located next to the city’s small Mitiga airport – recently retaken from the government by the Suq Al Juma brigade – Col. Yazin Fituri says, “If the government is strong enough, all the thuwar will give back their weapons and go back to civilian life.

“But the government is not strong enough and the revolution is still new. It needs one to two years to become stronger.

“Most brigades are in Tripoli,” he adds. “We know everyone – their names, ID, and the places they stay… Most of them went home, but when we need them we will call them.”

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