Forerunner of Libyan army deployed in militia feud

November 14, 2011 - 4:00 PM

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Hundreds of uniformed men described as members of a new Libyan army have been deployed for the first time to settle a bloody feud between rival militias, officials said Monday.

The soldiers, wearing beige camouflage uniforms and ID badges, were sent to serve as a buffer between gunmen from the city of Zawiya and the nearby tribal area of Warshefana.

Four days of fighting, the most sustained since the capture and killing of Moammar Gadhafi last month, had claimed at least 13 lives. The violence raised questions about the ability of Libya's interim leaders to restore order after eight months of civil war.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, a senior official in Libya's National Transitional Council, said Monday that the feud has been settled. He said members of the national army took up positions between Zawiya and the Warshefana lands, a few miles (kilometers) apart, and both less than an hour's drive west of the capital of Tripoli.

In the fighting of recent days, armed forces fired rockets, mortars and heavy machine guns at each other. In Warshefana, several homes were severely damaged. The spark for the violence remains unclear, though accusations have been flying from both sides, including that some of the Warshefana residents had ties to the old regime.

The two sides fought, among other things, for control of a former major military base of the Gadhafi regime. "Members of the national army are now in control of the base, which was a source of conflict," Ghoga said.

On Monday, hundreds of soldiers were deployed in the area between Zawiya and Warshefana. They manned checkpoints and searched cars for weapons.

Ghoga said the units deployed Monday were forerunners, and that a full army would be formed only after a new government is announced next Sunday. The government is scheduled to run Libya for seven months until elections for a national assembly.

Former anti-Gadhafi fighters will then have the choice either to join the security forces or return to civilian life, he said. Thousands of men who fought against Gadhafi remain armed, and there has been growing concern about the lack of control over all the weapons.

Fighters deciding to join the army would first have to undergo training, Brig. Gen. Abdel Salam al-Hasi, commander of the new forces, told The Associated Press. "Everyone will have to obey the legitimacy of our army," he said.

He would not say how many have already joined, but said the security force is growing in numbers. Gradually, former fighters returning to civilian life would be disarmed, he said.