* Army and TV station organise arms collection drive
* Libya still awash with weapons after last year's war
By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Ghaith Shennib
TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya, Sept 29 Hundreds of
Libyans handed in weapons left over from last year's war on
Saturday, part of a drive by the North African country to rid
its streets of arms and crack down on rogue militia groups.
As the day went on, a trickle of people turned into longer
lines in Tripoli and in the eastern city of Benghazi, where
tents were set up in squares for military officials to collect
arms, explosives and even rocket propelled grenade launchers.
Amid a celebratory atmosphere, women and children looked on
as men queued to turn over their weapons as they listened to a
military marching band and pop music.
"We want our country to be safe and secure ... We don't want
to see weapons anymore," Tripoli resident Mohammed Salama said,
as he stood in line to hand over a rifle.
"We want to live our lives. The time of war is over."
Libya's new rulers have struggled to impose their authority
on a country awash with weapons, and many Libyans are fed up
with militias, formed during the war but which still patrol the
streets and often take the law into their own hands.
A Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in
which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed,
was followed by anti-militia protests in the city last week,
increasing pressure on the authorities to tackle insecurity.
The government has since taken a twin-track approach -
vowing to dissolve rogue militias that operated without official
government permission, but also offering public backing to many
of the most powerful armed groups, which have official licenses
to operate, as it seeks to build stronger security forces.
Saad Bakar, head of a small brigade in Benghazi, handed over
rifles and ammunition on Saturday, saying he was ready to
disband his group.
"We were waiting until today to make sure that the weapons
go to the right place," he said. "We want to join the army as
In Benghazi, an organiser said more than 800 people had been
registered as having come to the collection point. In Tripoli,
an army official did not give an exact figure but said the
number had superseded expectations of around 200 people.
One participant said he had even heard that a tank had been
Those numbers suggest a fraction of the arms that spilled
out of Muammar Gaddafi's arsenals have been handed over but the
initiative is seen as a step forward in a country where many
still keep their weapons citing a precarious security situation.
"I want to live in a peaceful place where only the police
and army have arms," Benghazi businessman Ibrahim Ali said after
handing over a machine gun.
But he said he would still keep hold of his rifle for now.
"When I can call the police and they are able to arrive quickly,
then I can give them that weapon," he said.
The collection drive is a collaboration between the army and
a private television station which drummed up support through
live broadcasts from Tripoli and Benghazi.
Organisers in both cities, who said the event would be
repeated in other cities, planned to raffle off prizes,
including cars at the end of the day-long collection.
"Libyan people need stability ... They are handing over
weapons to the military so that they are kept in the right place
and not on the streets," said Yussef al-Mangoush, the army's
chief-of-staff. "This is the beginning, we began this in Tripoli
and Benghazi. We will go to other cities."
Mohammed Arusi, a 58 year old engineer who was queuing to
hand over a rifle in Tripoli, said he was satisfied the security
situation was changing for the better.
"It's not like before, the army is getting stronger," he
said. "You cannot buy safety, you have to feel safe. And I feel
safe right now."