Libyan Leader Vows to Keep Nation Together by Force
The Libyan leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has vowed to use force to stop the country breaking up after leaders in an eastern region declared autonomy.
“We are not prepared to divide Libya,” he said, blaming infiltrators and pro-Gaddafi elements for backing the autonomy plan. “We are ready to deter them, even with force.”
His comments come amid mounting evidence that Libya is slowly splintering into a series of rival fiefdoms controlled by competing militias, who increasingly follow their own agendas rather than acting in the national interest.
In February, the city of Misrata, which suffered a brutal siege by pro-Muammar Gaddafi forces, forged ahead with its own municipal elections, while the militia in Zintan is still holding Gaddafi’s son Saif.
Misrata has established a security zone that prohibits many Libyans from entering. It held the first city council elections in Libya last month, without the involvement of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).
The sense of growing instability in Libya was compounded by a recent Amnesty International report that the hundreds of militias vying for power in the country were out of control and increasingly behaving like mafia organisations.
Jalil’s comments are unusually strident for the Libyan leader and came a day after 3,000 activists, politicians and tribal leaders met in the eastern city of Benghazi to inaugurate a self-declared Cyrenaica Provisional Council.
As well as deep rivalries between individual cities, Libya has long been marked by a divide between east and south - Cyrenaica and Tripolitania - that has re-emerged since the fall of the old regime. This history is exacerbated by the fact that most of the country’s oil reserves are in the east.
The competition has led to armed clashes in the capital, Tripoli, and elsewhere and a growing distrust as the country has struggled to move forward to elections and a national government since Gaddafi’s overthrow last October.
Their declaration of autonomy, and the appointment of Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya’s former king, Idris, as head of the Cyrenaica council, has rapidly spiralled into a crisis.