Libya's parliament calls for U.N. aid to quell militia fighting

BENGHAZI Libya Wed Aug 13, 2014 2:09pm EDT

A fighter from Zintan brigade watches as smoke rises after rockets fired by one of Libya's militias struck and ignited a fuel tank in Tripoli August 2, 2014.   REUTERS/Hani Amara

A fighter from Zintan brigade watches as smoke rises after rockets fired by one of Libya's militias struck and ignited a fuel tank in Tripoli August 2, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Hani Amara

BENGHAZI Libya (Reuters) - Libya's parliament on Wednesday voted to disband the country's militia brigades and called on the United Nations to protect civilians in an effort to end the worst fighting between armed factions since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Lawmakers appeared to be seeking to strip the groups of former rebel fighters of the legitimacy they say they were given by the previous parliament and government ministries, and loosen their grip over Libya's fragile democracy.

But with Libya's army still in formation, it was unclear how the new Congress would enforce its decision. Composed of ex-rebels who once fought Gaddafi, the brigades are heavily armed and allied with powerful political factions.

U.S., U.N. and European officials hope the new parliament can forge dialogue among the warring factions. But there is little appetite among Western governments for on-the-ground intervention beyond encouraging the sides to talk.

For more than a month, two rival brigades have battled with rockets and artillery, turning southern Tripoli in a battlefield and forcing the United Nations and Western governments to close their embassies and evacuate diplomats.

One lawmaker said parliament's decision would include the Libya Shield brigades tied to Misrata city and their rivals, the Qaaqaa and al-Sawaiq brigades, allied with Zintan city, who have been fighting over Tripoli airport for a month.

"The decision will dissolve all armed brigades, including all the Shields and Qaqaa and Sawaiq," the lawmaker told Reuters.

The parliament also called for the "United Nations and the Security Council to immediately intervene to protect civilians and state institutions in Libya."

The two sides - fighters loyal to the western town of Zintan and more Islamist-leaning militias allied with Misrata - once fought together against Gaddafi's forces but their rivalries erupted into street battles over the airport last month, killing more than 200 people.

A United Nations delegation, from a Libyan mission known as UNSMIL, is seeking a ceasefire between Zintan and Misrata forces.

At least five people were killed and families were forced from their homes when Grad rockets hit neighborhoods in western Tripoli during clashes between rival armed factions, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday.

"UNSMIL continues to call for the combatants to heed Libyan as well as international calls for an immediate cease-fire," said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General.

Western partners, fearing Libya will slide into a failed state just across the Mediterranean from mainland Europe, have been frustrated by factions whose loyalties are often tied to cities, regions and former commanders rather than the state.

A separate battle in the city of Benghazi is complicating Libya's security after Islamist fighters joined forces with an ex-rebel group to force special forces from the eastern city.

Around 400 Philippine nationals and some European citizens and Egyptians were the latest to evacuate by ship from Benghazi port on Wednesday en route to Malta, according to Libyan Red Crescent representative Qais Al-Fakhry.

OIL PROGRESS?

Three years after Gaddafi's fall, Libya's transition to democracy has been a messy one, with armed factions often targeting or storming the parliament and ministries to press for decisions favoring their political backers.

With access to huge arsenals of Gaddafi-era weapons, armed groups have proven a massive challenge for the state, even taking over parts of Libya's key oil installations and cutting oil lifeline crude exports to make demands.

In a positive development, an oil tanker carrying 670,000 barrels of crude left Ras Lanuf oil terminal, the first shipment since the port was reopened following a year of blockades, a spokesman for state-run National Oil Corporation said.

The tanker carrying Sirtica crude left the Libyan port on Tuesday evening, the spokesman said.

Until April, federalist rebels demanding more autonomy for their eastern region were holding four out of five eastern oil ports, cutting off over half of Libya's export capacity of 1.25 million barrels per day, and hitting production in the North African OPEC member.

The government managed to strike a deal to free up the ports, but technical problems have delayed the full restart of shipments. The NOC says current national production is around 450,000 barrels per day.

(Additional reporting by Feras Bosalum in Benghazi; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Raph Boulton)

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