Militias Battle In Libyan Cities As New Parliament Convenes

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Three years after Moammar Gadhafi's ouster, Libya remains in political turmoil. Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz tells NPR's Arun Rath that the international community must follow through on its intervention.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. There is news today of shells and rockets exploding over Libya's capital, Tripoli. Three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the country is being ripped apart by loose bands of militias vying for control of various regions. There aren't many positive words to describe what's happening in Libya right now. Assessments range from catastrophe to failed state. Libya does have a newly elected parliament but they've been forced out of Tripoli and are convening for the time being in the eastern city of Tobruk. Earlier this week, I spoke with a foreign minister of the new parliament, Mohamed Abdelaziz. I asked him if it was fair to describe Libya as a failed state.

MOHAMED ABDELAZIZ: Honestly the international community, instead of having a plan as a post-conflict situation for Libya, they left the Libyans to decide on their own. In fact the job was not done properly. And instead of Libya going in the right direction, Libya went in a different direction, which frankly speaking, almost 70 percent of the factors at the moment are conducive to a failed state more to building a state. And this is the reason why we have asked the international community, requesting more effective international engagement.

RATH: Do you believe that international intervention is required to save Libya?

ABDELAZIZ: There is a difference between intervention and engagement. We are not asking for a military intervention. We are asking for an upgraded and more effective international engagement. What we need the specialized training. We need advanced technology, we need advanced equipment, and we need really to have people who are capable of acting as soldiers, as trained policeman, trained prosecutors. We have to build our criminal justice system. We are starting from scratch.

RATH: It sounds almost like there's a vicious circle here because what you're talking about -that sort of engagement - requires a kind of safety on the ground which is just not there in Libya right now. So how do you get to a level of stability that would allow that kind of engagement?

ABDELAZIZ: First of all, we need a very strong and effective political pressure on the factions who are fighting at the moment to stop fighting and to secure a cease-fire. Once the cease-fire is secured we give a chance to the Libyans to enter into a national dialogue.

RATH: How do you get these factions to the table? How do you get them after all this violence to talk to each other?

ABDELAZIZ: We do suffer from the growing number of extremists. And some of the groups are very radical. We are responsible for our own destiny. And we are responsible for shaping our destiny but honestly we cannot do it alone. That is why we are asking for a more effective engagement of the international community.

RATH: You've said that you want engagement, not intervention. However Libya's neighbor, Egypt, has raised concerns of what is happening in Libya could threaten Egyptian security. How concerned are you about what would happen if Egypt became involved in the conflict?

ABDELAZIZ: Egypt has a right to be concerned about Libya. But I would not expect that Egypt will intervene militarily in Libya because this is - from my point of view - will not happen at all. What is really important for Egypt - to open its military camps for detaining of Libyans, to opening the police academy for Libyans to be trained. Intelligence services should work together in times of controlling the Libyan Egyptian borders to avoid smuggling of weapons and trafficking of human beings and illegal migration that we see became the practice of the day. So I do believe that Egypt has a key role to play.

RATH: Today militias in Libya are in control of heavy weapons, like rockets and anti-aircraft cannon. How confident are you the government can disarm these militias?

ABDELAZIZ: Let me clarify one thing. It is very true and we do recognize that those military groups are much, much stronger than the government itself. And I think violence will produce violence. The issue of demilitarization has two aspects. One is the political dimension which - that the warring parties or the military groups should really sit together and agree on a settlement plan - a road plan for Libya in which all of them will be included and engaged.

RATH: The process of disarming, if the Libyan government does not have the expertise or ability to do that, who would do that then?

ABDELAZIZ: It's not the first time that the United Nations is embarked on a demilitarization process. I myself was in three peacekeeping operations before. And I am fully aware of the capabilities of the United Nations, you know, to undertake this exercise as much as demilitarization processes concerns.

RATH: So you are basically asking for a fairly robust U.N. security force in Libya.

ABDELAZIZ: No, as I mentioned to - there is the political dimension which is our problem - that we have to solve the problem, that we have to reach an agreement and how to demilitarize these groups. And second is the technical process. It doesn't need a big force to demilitarize. We have done it in former Yugoslavia, I do recall. We've done it in Namibia; we have done it in other areas where the United Nations was fully involved in peacekeeping operations and peace building operations. So it's not really new. What's important really is to secure the political agreement of the military groups, the government, and the parliament to reach a conclusion on how really to go in that direction.

RATH: Mohammed Abdel Aziz is the foreign minister for the Libyan government. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

ABDELAZIZ: Thank you for giving me the opportunity, and I wish you and your colleagues all the best.

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