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Libya Officials Reportedly Negotiating With Militia Over Airport Seizure

  • Peter Clottey

Members of the Libyan National Army rally to call for the National Transitional Council to stop marginalizing the role of the national army in Benghazi, Libya, March 4, 2012.

Newspaper publisher says Libya officials are negotiating with a militia group, which seized Tripoli airport

The publisher of the Libya Herald, an independent newspaper, says government officials are holding talks with a militia group that seized the country’s international airport in the capital, Tripoli, Monday.

Sami Zaptia, who is also an economist, said the airport seizure forced officials to divert arriving flights to Mitiga Airport, a military airport in the eastern part of Tripoli.

The militia group has said it seized the airport after its leader allegedly went missing.

“Intensive negotiations have been going on all day, and a committee of elders has been called, tribal leaders have been called together, and they are in deep discussion trying to come to a peaceful resolution,” said Zaptia.

He said it is unclear if the government will be able to resolve the militia group’s concerns to ensure the airport resumes normal operations.

“Everybody hopes Tripoli international airport will be opened sooner rather than later,” he said. “International flights have resumed now in the last few months [and] it will be a shame if [the airport] is kept closed for any period of time.”

Zaptia said the transitional government wants to avoid any more bloodshed following the uprising that toppled, and led to the subsequent death, of long-time leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

“The government is keen not to have Libyan freedom fighters fighting one another and not to be spilling each other’s blood.”

Some analysts have condemned the airport seizure. They called on the interim government to forcefully end the standoff, adding that would serve as a deterrent to other groups who could similarly hold the entire nation to ransom.

Zaptia said the administration has often encouraged Libyans to fully embrace the country’s new democratic process, instead of what he said was the old order of doing things under Gadhafi’s regime.

“The government has pointed … that we are now in a new democracy, you have the right to dissent,” said Zaptia, “but there are rules to the game.

He added, “democracy is not chaos, it’s not free for all, holding the prime minister’s office to ransom and now the airport. This is not the way,”

“We have to learn the new culture of democracy… not armed protests. That is really not a civilized way. We want to move away from the Gadhafi regime, from military rule, from the use of force and coercion.”

The country is scheduled to hold its first democratic elections later this month. Libyans would be required to vote for a National Consultative Assembly, tasked with drawing up a new constitution.

Observers have expressed concerns that prospective voters are unlikely to fully participate in the upcoming vote due to what they said is poor voter education.

Zaptia conceded that the administration has not been overly successful in educating Libyans about their rights and responsibilities in the new democratic dispensation.

“It’s very difficult now for a people overnight to learn the habit, to learn the culture, of democracy,” said Zaptia.

“The authorities have been trying, but I would say there hasn’t been enough time. But the authorities are trying to deal with militias, get the state back on its feet and try to educate the people in a democracy. The demands on the authorities have been too much, and they have struggled really.”

He warned that supporters of the old regime could create instability to undermine the upcoming vote.