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NATO grapples with Libya arsenals threat

Sept. 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM   |   Comments

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BRUSSELS, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- NATO is grappling with a growing threat of sophisticated weapons falling into the hands of potential foes in Libya as the North African country inches toward an endgame for its civil war.

Amid a threat from underground armed groups, including suspected al-Qaida adherents, in Libya outside the transitional government, the Gadhafi regime's collapse last month opened a Pandora's Box of armed insurgents of different political persuasions storming government and military centers and carrying off unspecified but apparently huge quantities of weapons and ammunition.

U.N. Special Adviser on Libya Ian Martin, who visited the North African country to compile a report for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, discussed weapons proliferation with transitional government leaders as a major challenge.

The European Union, NATO and the United Nations are working on creating a single security apparatus in Libya to start disarming disparate groups and armed individuals of no fixed affiliation.

NATO decision-makers, uncomfortable with scathing references to the chaos that ruled Iraq after the 2003 allied invasion, remain tight-lipped but privately admit the problem is immense, volatile and potentially dangerous for the West's aim of installing a friendly -- and preferably democratic -- government in Tripoli.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies cited weapons proliferation as one of the challenges facing the National Transitional Council.

While about 70 countries recognize the NTC, the new government still has to move to Tripoli from Benghazi, from where it mounted the military campaign against Gadhafi loyalists.

More importantly, NTC needs to secure domestic legitimacy, IISS said. A draft constitution declaring Libya an "independent democratic state" promised equality of citizens before the law.

That constitutional pledge is "likely to be welcomed by residents of eastern cities such as Benghazi and the Berber minority in the west, all neglected by Gadhafi government agencies that concentrated investment and services in loyalist areas," IISS said.

It is only weeks since rebels overran Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli, and the transition process in Libya is clearly just beginning, said the think tank. Having stemmed any immediate chaos, the NTC's next challenge will be stabilizing security.

"This will involve demobilizing and disarming the many, often young, men who went to battle against the Gadhafi regime and finding them gainful employment," IISS said.

Many Libyans haven't been paid for months. Upward of 20 percent of the potential workforce hasn't had a job for many years because of the lopsided nature of the Gadhafi-era economy. Getting Libya's economy working is another urgent item on the interim leadership's "to-do" list.

"Due to six months of conflict, the potential of the government is limited," Faraje Sayeh, the NTC's interim minister for capacity building, recently admitted. "Try to bear with us."

IISS said: "For the time being, most Libyan people appear prepared to do that. However, if positive results take too long to materialize, this goodwill will undoubtedly prove to have its limits."

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