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Militias stymie Libya’s leaders

Interim chief cites legacy of mistrust

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said it will take years for Libya’s new leaders to overcome a ‘heavy heritage’ of corruption.

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya’s interim leader acknowledged yesterday that his transitional government is powerless to control militias that are refusing to lay down their arms after ousting Moammar Khadafy as it struggles to impose control over the oil-rich North African nation.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil warned that remnants of the former regime also still pose a threat and that it will take years for Libya’s new leaders to overcome a “heavy heritage’’ of corruption and distrust after more than four decades of Khadafy’s rule.

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Abdul-Jalil said the governing National Transitional Council has made mistakes, but he also criticized former rebels who have formed powerful militias and local governments that have emerged as rivals to the central government in Tripoli that assumed power after Khadafy was ousted.

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

Libya is celebrating the first anniversary of the Feb. 17 start of the revolution last year, when peaceful antigovernment protesters took up weapons in the face of a deadly crackdown by Khadafy forces against their rallies. Libya declared liberation after Khadafy 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.

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

Hundreds of armed militias that fought against Khadafy’s forces are the real power on the ground in the country, wielding control over cities, neighborhoods, and borders while the transitional 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 yesterday. But there were conflicting accounts about the cause of the conflict.

Abdul-Jalil said Khadafy regime loyalists were “seeding sedition’’ in Kufra, but he declined to elaborate on which 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 National Transitional Council since it was formed, said Libyans need years to overcome a culture of corruption, mistrust, and build state institutions and rule of law. “What Khadafy left for us in Libya after 40 years is a very, very heavy heritage,’’ he said. “It is very heavy and will be hard to get over it in one or two years . . .’’

He also said that Khadafy’s relatives and loyalists remain a danger because they are hosted by countries that do not have control over them. He said Libya’s future relations with neighbors will be determined by how they respond to Libyan demands to hand over former regime forces on their territories.

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