TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The main security challenge for Tripoli is integrating the fighters who toppled Muammar Gaddafi into the police force to build the revolution’s “legitimacy,” an official of the interim administration said on Tuesday.
Outlining priorities, Osama Abu Ras, a member of the Supreme Security Committee for Tripoli, told Reuters that Gaddafi’s forces remained capable of firing missiles and the capital may be a potential target for such attacks.
Abu Ras said Gaddafi’s military manpower was depleting “day by day” due to defections to the revolutionary National Transitional Council (NTC) and he did not believe his troops, in themselves, posed a threat to the capital, but missiles fired from a distance might.
“We have a very strong (military) front now in our favor but there is a threat of some missiles, including Grad missiles, and rockets. This could be a real threat,” he said.
Asked if this was a threat to Tripoli, he said “It can be.”
But Abu Ras, who worked as an engineer before taking up his new role, said the main priority for him and his colleagues was “the spread of legitimacy” of the interim NTC administration.
He suggested authorities were concerned to demobilize gunmen whose trigger-happy habit of firing into the air to celebrate the revolution is testing the patience of some Tripoli residents.
“The spread of the weapon in the street is the real threat,” he said.
“Most of the fighters are cooperating very well with the NTC, the executive bureau, but we still have some problems we need to tackle on this issue.”
Many of the communities and factions who joined forces to wrest Tripoli from Gaddafi have since proven reluctant to withdraw their men from the capital, apparently calculating that their presence guarantees them a stake in the distribution of post-revolutionary power.
This has caused strains in the NTC, regarded by some analysts as an alliance of convenience that will struggle to move Libya to pluralism after 42 years of despotism.
Some of the more powerful groups of Tripoli militiamen hold allegiance to Islamist guerrilla leaders who fought a failed insurgency against Gaddafi in the 1990s. It is not clear how far these leaders are cooperating with the Supreme Security Council, analysts say.
Abu Ras did not comment on political issues, but said interim authorities had invited revolutionary gunmen to join the police force as an interim measure.
“In this transitional period they are very welcome to become members of the police forces until we reach the new government. In that moment they will have a choice either to join the army or to join the police force, or to resign.”
He said having a uniformed police force “is very important for the citizens of Tripoli.”
Paying money to fighters to disarm would be “a last resort.”
Turning to the military situation, he said the top military priority was to capture Gaddafi and his senior aides including his sons.
Some Libyans who were fighting for Gaddafi had committed serious crimes and were fighting to escape justice, he said.
“They are trying to protect themselves, that’s why they are fighting -- not because they love Gaddafi as it looks. They are just trying to protect themselves.”
He said his message to Gaddafi fighters was: “We will follow you wherever you go. We will not take revenge or be aggressive as you have done. (But) legal procedures will take place,” against those who committed crimes.
Asked about an Amnesty International report published this week that alleged NTC fighters had committed crimes, he said interim authorities were ready to investigate and send anyone with a case to answer to court for trial.
Editing by Janet Lawrence