TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's prime minister urged citizens Sunday to peacefully oppose the country's out-of-control militias, saying the growth of the groups in defiance of the central government endangers the country's relations with the world.
Prime Minister Ali Zidan made the comments days after rival militias brought the capital, Tripoli, to a standstill in clashes that killed four people. The death of a militia commander from the city of Misrata triggered the clashes, which caused panic in the capital, with residents running for cover and some abandoning their cars in the streets.
Assassinations of public figures and security officials also have become common in Libya, with most attacks blamed on militias. The government is struggling to control them even as it continues to rely on many of them to impose order after the country's 2011 civil war.
Late Saturday, gunmen killed two traffic police officers in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city. Militiamen briefly kidnapped Zidan himself last month. Speaking to reporters Sunday, Zidan said his government has tried to absorb some of the militias into the police and military. He said any other group outside of these two institutions has only "temporary or de-facto legitimacy."
"Let the Libyans come together and remove these weapons, keep the security and lay the rule of law," he said. He said combatting illegal armed militia can be done peacefully, saying that citizens protested peacefully against a camp held by a militia before.
Zidan said his government has bought weapons from some militiamen to disarm them, and is seeking help from the international community for disarmament programs. He said after Dec. 31 there will be no more payments for militias outside of police or army authority.
"Libya is part of the world, which cares for it to be a secure spot and not a source of nuisance," he said. "The world will not leave us to become a part of the Mediterranean that is a source of terrorism, instability and violence."
Since the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, hundreds of militias have run rampant. They came from the rebel bands that fought against Gadhafi in the eight-month war that toppled him. Originally locally based, drawing their loyalties from a particular city, neighborhood or tribe, they have since mushroomed in size.
Too weak to disarm the militias, the military, police and government have tried to co-opt them, paying them to play security roles. But the policy has backfired, empowering the militias without controlling them.