Libyan Militias Have 1 Day Left To Get Out Of Tripoli

Dec 19, 2011
Originally published on December 19, 2011 7:20 am
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Libya's government has given armed militias until tomorrow to get out of Tripoli. The call comes after clashes between rival militias followed the overthrow and death of Moammar Gadhafi. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the city's main hospital.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: This past week, the head of Tripoli's Central Hospital was dragged from his office, beaten and then abducted for several hours. This wasn't the first attack on the hospital. There have been at least a dozen.

Here at the Central Hospital, the halls are pretty empty, very few patients are being admitted these days, and it's an irony. This place and its staff were victimized under Gadhafi. Thugs working for the slain leader would intimidate the doctors and the nurses here. Now, the threat comes from other men with guns, the very militias that were born during this uprising.

DR. ABDULLAH TURKI: Why they're attacking here doctors in the medical department? There's no excuse for that. There's no excuse.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Abdullah Turki is the head of the internal medicine department. He says in another recent incident, militia members burst into the operating room and tried to kill a patient that was being treated.

TURKI: We don't want anyone with guns. It's a hospital.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there are more men with guns in the hospital these days than patients. As I'm speaking with Dr. Turki, a pair of armed militia members intervene.

Who are these guys? They're trying to stop us from interviewing you. I mean...

TURKI: I don't know them. Believe me, I don't them. And you see, no one of them wearing a badge. We don't know where they come from.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's the problem now. Another doctor, Samy Osman, says anyone with a gun can say they're the law, and there's no way of knowing who they really are.

DR. SAMY OSMAN: They said this is our area. This hospital is in our area, in our control. You are under our protection, and you will do as we say.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says militia members have been swaggering around the hospital, intimidating the staff. The hospital, he says, is on the front line of a turf war between rival groups.

OSMAN: Right now, there's no national army. The guns and firearms are everywhere, so there is no security. You can't be safe, even in the streets. We know that. We know that, right. But this is a hospital. It's supposed to be safe. If you can't guarantee that your patient will be safe, how can you admit him and treat him?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so the doctors are now on strike. They're demanding that the interim government do something to protect them.

OMAR AL KHADRAWI: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At a recent ceremony in Tripoli, the Deputy Interior Minister Omar al-Khadrawi announced that a number of local militia units had committed themselves to disarming and joining the national army.

KHADRAWI: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our main goal, he says, is to establish security and to bring the former rebels under the banner of the government. Those who don't want to join the military will either be sent abroad to study, or we will give them jobs here, he says.

According to the International Crisis Group, there are an estimated 125,000 fighters who are members of well over a hundred militias. Khadrawi, of course, wouldn't say how many of them have pledged to disarm and disband, and evidence suggests that so far, there are only a few.

During Libya's revolution, rebel fighters organized themselves by geography. Then they all converged on the capital during a final assault. Initially seen as liberators, residents now view them as opportunists who are entrenching their position for possible political gain.

Tripoli's international airport is being protected by a militia from the Western Mountains in Zintan. They hang around the departures hall in their fatigues, holding guns.

ABJELANI ABDUL MAJID: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abjelani Abdul Majid is a fighter from Zintan. He says we are not leaving the airport. They need us for security. And no one in the government is taking that responsibility. The government is weak and has no control, he says. Majid from Zintan sees the airport as strategically important and says Zintan's militia has earned the right to control it.

MAJID: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Zintanis have fought and given blood to liberate Libya from Gadhafi, he says, and so we deserve something for that.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Tripoli.


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