Libyan militia, army clash near Tripoli`s airport

Revolutionary fighters clashed with national army troops near Tripoli`s airport, leaving one person dead

Last Updated: Dec 12, 2011, 00:27 AM IST

Tripoli: Revolutionary fighters clashed with
national army troops near Tripoli`s airport, leaving one
person dead, officials said on Sunday.

The violence reflects the difficulties Libya`s new
leaders face as they try to stamp their authority on the
disparate militias that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi.

Army spokesman Sgt. Abdel-Razik el-Shibahy said fighters
from the western mountain town of Zintan, who control
Tripoli`s international airport, opened fire on two occasions
on Saturday on the convoy of Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the
commander of the fledgling national army.

He accused the Zintan revolutionaries of trying to
assassinate Hifter, and said one guard was killed and four
others wounded in the second attack. He also said the Zintan
fighters mistakenly believed that the army was coming to
attack them at the airport, which they have been controlled
since shortly after the capture of Tripoli in August.

"Zintan rebels opened fire on the convoy from left, right
and front," he said. "They think that the army wants to take
over the airport but this is not the case."

Khaled el-Zintani, a spokesman for the Zintan fighters,
denied they tried to kill Hifter, and blamed the violence on
the army`s failure to notify them that the general was coming.

The Zintan fighters, who control a number of checkpoints
on the highway leading to the airport, said Hifter`s convoy
failed to stop at one of the security posts, and instead sped
through it, causing the Zintanis to open fire.

"What do you expect fighters to do when a heavily armed
military convoy tries to pass checkpoints without previous
notification?" el-Zintani said.

The clashes highlight one of the biggest challenges
facing Libya`s new leaders establishing functioning security
services, including an army and border guards.

Currently, semiautonomous militias that fought against
Gadhafi still control key locations, including the capital`s
airport, and have proven reluctant to submit to the authority
of the still weak interim national government.

El-Zintani said the revolutionaries are ready to hand the
airport to a government agency "only if it is capable of
protecting the airport from intrusions."