The commander of a powerful Libyan militia said Sunday he has withdrawn from the country's main airport, while some of his men remained behind to give the government another chance to either hire them or take over security itself.
Airport official Nawal al-Amin said that some former rebels left after the top commander quit, but others were meeting with Interior Ministry officials at Tripoli's international airport to try to end the standoff.
The withdrawal of Zintan rebel commander Sayid Mokhtar al-Akhdar and some of his men leaves open the question of who will protect the international airport.
The airport security dispute was the latest sign of the inability of the central government to function effectively after last year's overthrow of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
Militias comprised of former rebels have shouldered much of the responsibility of policing the country in the absence of a national army and police force. The militias operate outside the government's control.
The militia from Libya's western mountainous area of Zintan said it no longer wants to be responsible for securing the airport, seven months after it assumed control there.
Zintan militia spokesman Khaled al-Zintani said the former rebels were responsible for securing a 15-kilometer (10-mile) radius around the airport following a proliferation of long and short-range missiles that could threaten air traffic. The government has staffed civilian posts like the customs office.
The government promised in a statement Sunday that it would take over by the afternoon, but later issued a statement saying the handover was running behind schedule. It did not elaborate.
"The sight of armed men around the airport has caused tensions, so we wanted the government to take over the airport," al-Zintani said.
"We were martyred to liberate this country, but where is the government? Where is the police? Where is the army? Where is a constitution?" al-Akhdar said.
Al-Akhdar said his forces are under pressure to provide security with no funds, no salaries and little gratitude. He said his militia left the airport to send a message to officials in Tripoli "that we will not be burdened by their failure to govern."
Libyan Interior Ministry spokesman Abdel-Salam al-Tounsi said some of the former rebels protecting the airport were meeting with a top police official to discuss plans for possible employment and salaries. The Interior Ministry said the former rebels must be given training before they can work as guards at the airport.
In general, the government does not have the capability of providing its own force to secure vital government facilities, according to former rebels.
Libyan tribesmen have kept the country's main border crossing with Egypt closed for more than a day, complaining of a rise in crime and rampant smuggling of drugs and weapons across the frontier, according to residents and officials. Continued...