Libya:Rebels admit Biting off more than they can chew

Abdul-Jalil said the rebels  had made mistakes, but he also criticised former rebels who have formed powerful militia and local governments that have emerged as rivals to the Tripoli-based central government that assumed power after Gaddafi was ousted.

“Both are to blame,” he said. “The governmental programme to integrate the militias is slow and the revolutionaries don’t trust it.”

Libya is celebrating the first anniversary of the February 17 start of the revolution last year when the rebels took up weapons against the  Gaddafi government. 

The rebels  declared liberation after Gaddafi 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.

Revenge attacks

However, the country has been plagued by revenge attacks by those who suffered at the hands of Gaddafi’s forces during the brutal civil war. Human rights groups have documented reports of widespread torture and killings of detainees.

Hundreds of armed militia that fought against Gaddafi’s forces are the real power on the ground in the country, wielding control over cities, neighbourhoods and borders while the rebel 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 Gaddafi’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.

Heavy heritage

“What Gaddafi 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 Gaddafi’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 neighbours 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, Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, her mother and two of her brothers fled to neighbouring Algeria, while another son Al-Saadi and dozens of senior military officers went to Niger.

“We have to take a strong stance with neighbours,” he said.

Libyan officials were angered earlier this month when Al-Saadi Gadhafi, who Niger says is under house arrest, warned in a television interview that his homeland was facing a new uprising.

Gaddafi’s son told Al-Arabiya TV 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 Gaddafi loyalists have infiltrated revolutionary forces and even formed their own militia.

Revolutionaries after the revolution

“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 favourite 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 Gaddafi when he defected to the rebels’ side, said the NTC has been paralysed 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 criticised for lacking leadership skills and the inability to take decisive measures.

Enmity and expulsions

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 Gaddafi-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 Gaddafi 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.”

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