Libya’s unsecured arms ‘already gone missing’
TRIPOLI / WASHINGTON
An anti-Gadhafi fighter salvages weapons from a pro-Gadhafi ammunition compound in a village near Sirte in this file photo. REUTERS photoSome weapons depots in Libya have still not been secured properly, and “much has already gone missing” from unguarded sites, the top U.N. envoy in Libya says.
Preventing more weapons from being smuggled out of country will be difficult, considering the nature of the vast desert nation’s borders, the envoy, Ian Martin, told The Associated Press Nov. 6 in an interview.
“That has to be a priority now, to secure what still remains in Libya,” he said. “Over time, the international community can assist Libya and its neighbors with that, but I am afraid there is not a quick and easy solution to that problem.” During the chaos of Libya’s 8-month civil war, human rights groups and reporters came across a number of weapons depots that were left unguarded and were looted after Moammar Gadhafi’s fighters fled.
Martin said the unsecured weapons remain a “very, very serious cause for concern.” He said they include shoulder-held missiles, mines and ammunition. “It’s clear that much has already gone missing from unsecured locations and that there are still locations which have not been properly secured,” he said.
Martin noted progress concerning chemical weapons and nuclear material. Last week, Libyan officials said they discovered two new sites with chemical weapons that had not been declared by the Gadhafi regime when it vowed several years ago to stop pursuing non-conventional weapons. Officials also said they found about 7,000 drums of raw uranium.
“That, too, has been secured,” Martin said of the latest discoveries, noting that the main issue is now how to dispose of them. The Gadhafi regime fell with the capture and killing of the dictator on Oct. 20, followed by a declaration of liberation by Libya’s new leadership three days later.
In the meantime, last week top national security aides to U.S. President Barack Obama briefed the U.S. Congress on efforts to round up arms looted from slain Libyan Gadhafi’s vast arsenal, key lawmakers said. “They’re working on that,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon told reporters after a classified briefing, Agence France-Presse reported. “They know what the problem is, and they’re working on it.” “It’s a challenge and I’m reassured that we’re trying to take some steps to meet that challenge but it’s a lot of weapons,” said Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on McKeon’s pane.
Urgent need for security forces
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also urged Libya’s new leaders to quickly bring under control unsecured munitions. U.N. Security Council before urged Libya to prevent such weapons from reaching terrorists and other armed groups. It also called on Libyan authorities to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles in coordination with international authorities.
The U.N. mission headed by Martin is designed to help Libya’s interim leaders with the transition to democracy. By late June, Libyans are scheduled to elect a national assembly that would oversee the drafting of a constitution, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.
The National Transitional Council last week chose a new prime minister, who is to form a government by mid-month for the transition period. The prime minister, Abdurrahim el-Keib, said in a televised speech marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha that Libya must quickly form new security forces. He added that “the presence of weapons in this random manner really concerns us.” El-Keib also said national reconciliation is a priority. This would include compensating those who were hurt in the fighting and punishing the guilty, he said.
Some Libyan officials have called for a faster transition, warning of a dangerous power vacuum. Martin said accelerating the elections timetable “is going to be quite difficult, but depends first and foremost on the speed with which they (Libya’s interim leaders) can reach the political decisions, and we can’t determine that.” Fundamental decisions, including on the preferred electoral system, have not yet been made, he said.
The NTC has acknowledged that it has not established full control over the country. Suspected Gadhafi loyalists are being held in detention centers controlled by semiautonomous armed militias, instead of the NTC. Human rights groups have reported mistreatment of detainees in such lockups. Martin said the interim authorities have tried to tackle the problem, “but they need to do more, faster, even before a new government is in place.” Jamal Bennour, a prominent Libyan jurist involved in setting up a new judicial system, said that at the moment, the NTC only controls one prison in Tripoli, and courts and prosecutors are functioning at a minimal level.