Freed of Gadhafi, Libya's instability only deepens

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Saturday, Feb. 24, 2012 photo, illegal African immigrants and suspected mercenaries stand at a barred door in a prison in Gherian, Libya. Six months after Gadhafi's ouster, the nominal central government stands largely helpless and unable to impose its authority. Tripoli remains under the control of various revolutionaries-turned-militiamen, mainly from the nearby city of Misrata and the western mountain town of Zintan, who have resisted calls to integrate into a national army.

Manu Brabo, Associated Press

BENGHAZI, Libya — A large map of Libya hangs on the wall in the home of Idris al-Rahel, with a line down the middle dividing the country in half.

Al-Rahel, a former army officer, leads a movement to declare semiautonomy in eastern Libya, where most of the country's oil fields are located. The region's top tribal leaders meet Tuesday in the east's main city Benghazi to consider unilaterally announcing an eastern state, linked to the west only by a tenuous "federal union."

Opponents fear such a declaration could be the first step toward outright dividing the country. But some easterners say they are determined to end the domination and discrimination by the west that prevailed under dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Al-Rahel points to the capital Tripoli on the map, in the west. "All troubles came from here," he said, "but we will not permit this to happen again."

The move shows how six months after Gadhafi's fall, the central government in Libya has proved incapable of governing at all. Other countries that shed their leaders in the Arab Spring revolts — Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen — are going through rocky transitions, but none has seen a collapse of central authority like Libya. The collapse has only worsened as cities, towns, regions, militias and tribes all act on their own, setting up their independent power centers.

After liberation from the rule of Gadhafi, Libyans dreamed their country of 6 million could become another Dubai — a state with a small population, flush with petro-dollars, that is a magnet for investment. Now they worry that it is turning more into another Somalia, a nation that has had no effective government for more than 20 years.

Libya may not face literal fragmentation, but it could be doomed to years of instability as it recovers from four decades of rule under Gadhafi, who pitted neighbor against neighbor, town against town and tribe against tribe. The resentment and bitterness he incubated is now bursting forth in general lawlessness.

"What Gadhafi left in Libya for 40 years is a very, very heavy heritage," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, which in theory rules Libya but doesn't even hold sway in the capital Tripoli. "It's ... hard to get over it in one or two years or even five years."

Signs of the government's weakness are everywhere.

Tripoli remains under the control of various revolutionaries-turned-militiamen, who have resisted calls to integrate into a national army.

Kufra, deep in the southern desert, is a battleground for two rival tribes, one Arab and one African, with dozens killed in two weeks of fighting last month.

And Misrata, the country's third-largest city and just two hours' drive east of the capital, effectively rules itself, with its militias ignoring government pleas and exacting brutal revenge on anyone they believe to have supported Gadhafi.

At a Misrata garage that militiamen have turned into a makeshift prison, one detainee, Abdel-Qader Abdel-Nabi, shows what remains of his left hand: The fingers have been cut off in a ragged line about halfway down. Abdel-Nabi said militiamen lashed his hand with a horse whip until the fingers were severed.

"Then they threw me bleeding down the stairs," he said. His interrogators were trying to get him to confess to working with Gadhafi's forces during last year's civil war and collaborating in the killing of rebel fighters. He refused, saying he was innocent.

Around 800 other detainees are held in the same facility, which militiamen allowed The Associated Press to visit. The detainees are accused of involvement in killings, torture, rape and other crimes under Gadhafi. There are no courts at the moment capable of addressing the suspicions, so the detainees are entirely at the mercy of militiamen.

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