TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The military commander of Tripoli, a key figure in the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, called on other militias to pull their weapons out of Tripoli, accusing them of terrorizing the city’s population.
The remarks by Abdulhakim Belhadj, whose Tripoli Military Council claims a mandate from Libya’s new rulers, follow rising concern about potential conflict among armed groups that converged on Tripoli to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and have stayed on to demand stakes in a future government.
They also follow the announcement a day earlier of another group that it would collect weapons and provide security in the name of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).
That group, the Tripoli Revolutionists Council, said it was cooperating with Belhadj’s group, but accused it of carrying out arbitrary raids in the capital.
“The sense of safety is turning into terror,” Belhadj told reporters in the capital. “All who care about the security and stability of Tripoli need to work with us to bring it back. We need to end the presence of heavy weapons and keep them from proliferating, except among authorized parties.”
His deputy, Al-Mahdi Al-Harati, said there was no lawful alternative to his group’s presence in Tripoli.
“Whoever doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the (military) council doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the national council,” he said.
He declined to respond to claims by the head of the other Tripoli group, led by militia commander Abdullah Ahmed Naker, that Belhadj’s group lacks the numbers to control the capital.
The apparent competition for the title of top militia in Tripoli may stir concern about tensions among the many armed groups now exercising authority in the capital, whose residents say they fear the competition for power could turn violent.
Republican Senator John McCain called on the NTC during a visit to Libya last week to move quickly to get the armed groups under their control.
The NTC is struggling to form an interim government that includes representatives of various regions that have sent fighters to Tripoli.
Additional reporting by William Maclean; editing by Joseph Nasr and Andrew Roche