Libyan militias say they have left Tripoli

Libyan militias have withdrawn from Tripoli after public pressure.

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Libyan militias including two groups from the western city of Zintan have withdrawn from the capital in response to public pressure nearly a week after deadly violence, they said Thursday.

The al-Qaaqa Brigade said it had handed back to the authorities a site it had occupied and pulled out of the city with its weapons and vehicles, including tanks.

Brigade commander Othman Mligta, a civilian, told AFP members of the group include military-registered border guards.

“They are leaving from here and will head for their posts on the southern frontier,” he said.

Another Zintan-based group, the Sawaek Brigade, which is one of the most heavily armed units that battled Dictator Moammar Qaddafi, also said it was pulling out.

It said it was leaving the premises of a Qaddafi-founded organization that it had occupied since rebels advanced into the capital in August 2011.

On Tuesday, the government announced plans to remove militias from Tripoli and eventually integrate them into the security forces, after a weekend of deadly clashes between militiamen and residents.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan attended Thursday’s pullout by the Sawaek Brigade, and thanked the groups for complying with the government announcement.

“The decision to evacuate armed groups from the capital will apply to all factions without exception,” he said.

The Misrata militia, which was at the heart of the weekend violence in which 46 people died and some 500 were wounded, had already started pulling out of Tripoli on Monday at the behest of community leaders in their coastal city.

Former rebels helped topple and kill Qaddafi in 2011, but have since banded into militias carving their own fiefdoms, each with its own ideology and regional allegiance.

The unrest, the deadliest in Tripoli since the uprising, erupted on Friday when demonstrators protesting against militias in the Gharghour neighborhood were fired upon from villas occupied by the Misrata fighters, who killed several of them.

Rival militiamen then swept in, sparking clashes that continued until Saturday.

The Misrata brigade saw some of the heaviest fighting during the uprising against Qaddafi, when their city was besieged by regime forces.

But many such groups have rejected government calls to lay down their arms or integrate into the armed forces, triggering the frustration of Libyans who once hailed them as heroes for toppling Qaddafi.

An Islamist militia that had run a prison facility at Tripoli’s Mitiga airbase also announced it was leaving the site.

“We’re handing our base to the air force, and the prisoners will be given over to the justice ministry,” militia spokesman Mahmud Hamza told AFP.

Another powerful group, the Brigade of the Martyr Mohammed al-Madani, said on Thursday it was leaving Al-Yarmuk barracks it had occupied in the Salaheddin district.

Tripoli city council and the students’ union have called a new demonstration for Friday to demand the departure of all militias from the city.

Militiamen continue to occupy several public and privately owned sites in the capital, including the international airport which is controlled by fighters from Zintan.

London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International urged the authorities to protect the protesters.

“The Libyan authorities must guarantee that protesters taking to the streets on Friday will be protected from violence by militias. Anything short of that could result in a new tragedy,” said Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.