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Libyan Parliament Challenges Militias, Seeks UN Aid

  • Reuters

Lawmakers from Libya's newly-elected parliament are seen assembled in Tobruk, Aug. 2, 2014.

Lawmakers from Libya's newly-elected parliament are seen assembled in Tobruk, Aug. 2, 2014.

Libya's parliament on Wednesday voted to disband the country's militia brigades and called on the United Nations to protect civilians in an effort to end the worst fighting between armed factions since the 2011 fall of Moammar Gadhafi.

Lawmakers appeared to be seeking to strip brigades of former rebel fighters of the legitimacy they claim from the previous parliament and government ministries, and loosen their grip over Libya's fragile democracy.

But with Libya's army still in formation, it was unclear how the new Congress would enforce its decision. Composed of ex-rebels who once fought Gadhafi, the brigades are heavily armed and allied with powerful political factions.

For more than a month, two rival brigades have battled with rockets and artillery, turning southern Tripoli in a battlefield and forcing the United Nations and Western governments to close their embassies and evacuate diplomats.

One lawmaker said parliament's decision would include the Libya Shield brigades tied to Misrata city and their rivals, the Qaaqaa and al-Sawaiq brigades allied with Zintan city, who have been fighting over Tripoli airport for a month.

The two sides once fought together against Gadhafi's forces but their rivalries erupted into street battles over the airport last month, killing more than 200 people.

A United Nations delegation has been seeking to broker a ceasefire between Zintan and Misrata forces who are dug in around Tripoli International Airport and exchange daily volleys of rockets and artillery fire.

At least five people were killed and families were forced from their homes when Grad rockets hit neighborhoods in western Tripoli during clashes between rival armed factions, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday.

Western partners, fearing Libya will slide into a failed state just across the Mediterranean from mainland Europe, have been frustrated by factions whose loyalties are often tied to cities, regions and former commanders rather than the state.

U.S. and European officials hope the new parliament can be a space for dialogue among the warring factions. But there is little appetite among Western governments for on-the-ground intervention in Libya beyond cajoling the sides into talks.

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