TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The proliferation of weapons in Libya is a major concern and the new rulers need to establish a proper police force and army to replace the hundreds of armed groups who patrol the streets, the United Nations special adviser on Libya said on Sunday.
Ian Martin, in Libya to compile a report for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on rebuilding the country after its civil war, also said the interim government needed to start the electoral process soon if it is to honour its commitment to establish democracy.
The disintegration of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule after a six-month war has left a security vacuum in Libya, with no state security forces, rebel fighters who are not part of any formal structure and huge quantities of unsecured weapons.
“Proliferation of weapons is a major concern,” Martin told Reuters in an interview on the second day of a visit to the Libyan capital.
“It’s a concern to Libya’s neighbours, quite naturally. The European Union was working on border security issues here in the past and I think it has made clear that it’s willing to assist Libya in future if asked to do so.”
“Clearly it’s a matter of moving from the current situation in which there are many people with weapons who are fighting in this conflict to one where there is a single public security force and the kind of proper state army that didn’t exist in Libya in the past,” he said.
“I’ve just been discussing with the Minister of the Interior the challenge that they face in terms of public security, in terms of getting police more fully back on the streets and weapons off the streets and building a democratically accountable police force.”
“(That is) not an easy matter in any society, let alone one which is just coming out of 42 years of oppressive security and conflict.”
The National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya’s de facto government since Gaddafi’s stronghold in the capital was overrun last month, says that it is in the process of integrating the armed rebel groups into the government.
“None of the groups is intent on staying as armed forces independent of the national army or the police and there is consensus on that,” Aref El-Nayed, director of the NTC’s stabilization team, said earlier on Sunday. “This process is already ongoing ... We are emerging with a unified structure.”
The NTC has committed itself to building a democratic system in Libya to replace Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule. It has set itself a timetable to establish a formal government and schedule elections. However, it has said that process will not get underway until “national liberation” — without defining when or what that is.
“I think it is understandable that while there are still parts of the country that are not fully controlled by the new authorities, then they may not want to start the clock running on those commitments until they have the security throughout the country that would be necessary to carry them forward,” said Martin. “I don’t know exactly when that moment will be.”
“The National Transitional Council has made strong commitments to proceed along a democratic path and has made clear it would like United Nations assistance in that area and although elections may be a little way ahead, that needs to begin soon to keep the commitment that they have made.”
He said there were no discussions with the new Libyan authorities about sending any kind of UN military or police force to help establish security.
“We’re not talking about a United Nations peacekeeping of any form here. We’re looking ahead to an essentially political, civilian mission with a number of advisory functions that could assist the authorities that they’ve clearly identified.”
Martin said it was likely he would report on the situation in Libya to the UN Security Council at the end of next week.
“I certainly think that the commitments the leaders of the NTC are expressing to us are absolutely the right commitments. Of course they face a major challenge in implementing them in practice, and our commitment is to try to help them to do so,” he said.