Armed and jobless militias worry Libya deputy PM

The new deputy prime minister of Libya discusses his concerns as the fledgling government moves forward.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Ð Dec 13 : Mustafa Abushagur , Interim Deputy Prime Minister of Libya and President of the Dubai based RIT university during the interview in his office at Dubai Silicon Oasis in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Carol
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DUBAI // The army of rebel fighters who liberated Libya have become the new government's main concern.

As many as 200,000 militiamen remain armed and unemployed, the deputy prime minister Mustafa Abushagur estimates. A third have stayed in Tripoli, where the final battles of the eight-month war took place. Many now use their Kalashnikov assault rifles to man checkpoints.

"That's the biggest challenge, is how to get those young people who have really led the revolution … and be able to give them something," Mr Abushagur said.

"They sacrificed so much to gain this freedom for the Libyan people."

Dr Abushagur is president of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubai, from where has taken leave of absence since accepting his government post in late November.

He left for Tripoli soon afterwards to be sworn in and to assess the situation, and returned to Dubai for a two-day visit last month.

Sporadic clashes between militias and the potential for more fighting in Libya have been widely reported, but Mr Abushagur downplays the threat of violence.

"Even though there are arms everywhere, there is no violence — or, I would say, there is nothing there that I would consider major violence.

"People are behaving very well, even though you can see weapons in the street."

Within five months, the government hopes to have a programme to survey these men's skills and place them in training courses or jobs. About 25,000 each would probably join the police and the army, and about a third might take government jobs, Dr Abushagur said.

Students and professionals would return to their previous lives.

"Our plan is, in the next probably four to five months, they will be somewhere," he said.

He denied reports that the government issued a two-week deadline last month for all militias to leave Tripoli. He said it was unrealistic, and a city council member may have made the comment.

Other pressing needs included caring for the victims of the war: helping widows, treating the injured and tracing missing people. "We are continually finding mass graves," Dr Abushagur said.

Restoring normality was another task, accomplished by hiring firms to rebuild schools so children could return to class and securing the Dh26 billion needed each month to pay government salaries.

For months, the transitional government has sought the release of billions of dollars of Libyan assets frozen around the world, stalled over legal issues and concerns about mismanagement. The UN Security Council ordered $40bn released and the US unblocked $30bn in December.

National reconciliation was also needed to deal with those who had backed the regime.

"Some of the cities joined early on, some delayed a little bit, and also some people of course were forced to fight for the regime," Dr Abushagur said.

Finally, there was the massive challege of building a democratic nation after four decades of dictatorship. Elections are scheduled for the middle of this year.

"There is literally nothing there we can build on," Dr Abushagur said. "This transition from a revolution to nation-building is a very difficult and complex process.

"At the same time, there are a lot of needs."

Dr Abushagur spent decades outside Libya, studying electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, then teaching at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

His path paralleled that of the new prime minister of Libya, appointed in October. Abdurrahman Al Keib also taught at the University of Alabama, and was head of the electrical engineering department at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi when he was approached to lead the interim government.

A previous version of this article misstated the length of the Libyan war.