Tension rises between rebel and civilian leaders in Libya - Belhaj is a front-line commander and former mujahedin in Afghanistan who says he was kidnapped and tortured by the CIA and turned over to the forces of Moammar Kadafi, who jailed him for



Tension rises between rebel and civilian leaders in Libya
The dispute over a plan to bring rebel fighters under civilian
authority involves Mahmoud Jibril, who serves as a kind of interim
prime minister, and rebel commander Abdel-Hakim Belhaj.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-libya-fighting-20110912,0,2472090.story

Engineering student and rebel fighter Ahmed Hamza, 23, left, prays on
the outskirts of Bani Walid, Libya, where the fighters advanced again
into the Kadafi stronghold, moving in to a northern strip of the town.
(Alexandre Meneghini, Associated Press / September 12, 2011)

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By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
September 12, 2011
Reporting from Tripoli, Libya— A plan approved Sunday by Libya's
transitional leadership team to bring rebel fighters under civilian
authority has stoked tension between the new civilian leadership and
the rebel commander whose troops patrol the city.

The dispute involves two of post-revolutionary Libya's best-known
figures — Mahmoud Jibril, who serves as a kind of interim prime
minister, and Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, Tripoli's top rebel military leader.
Their differing backgrounds give some hint of the diversity of
leadership in the new Libya.

Jibril is a U.S.-educated technocrat who spent the civil war in the
relative safety of the eastern city of Benghazi. Belhaj is a front-
line commander and former mujahedin in Afghanistan who says he was
kidnapped and tortured by the CIA and turned over to the forces of
Moammar Kadafi, who jailed him for six years.

Behind the dustup is a broader question of what role civilians and
armed men will play in the new Libya, a nation now awash in weapons
and still at war with Kadafi holdouts.

Council figures, including Jibril, are tasked with overseeing the
nation's transition into a representative democracy after more than
four decades of autocratic rule. Part of that task is disarming
irregular militias and getting armed rebels without civilian jobs into
regular police and military units.

Belhaj has pledged his loyalty to the Transitional National Council,
which was based in the eastern city of Benghazi but is slowly moving
to Tripoli. But it is widely known that Belhaj is upset at council
plans to put military units under its umbrella.

"This proposal will divide everyone," said one pro-Belhaj military
official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the
matter.

On Sunday, Belhaj, who theoretically has thousands of troops under his
command, did not appear at the news conference announcing the plan.
Jibril said the military leader had other commitments and denied there
were any hard feelings.

"There is no problem between him [Belhaj] and us," said Jibril, who
referred to the rebel fighters as "heroes" who had liberated the
capital with a minimum of bloodshed. He called Belhaj "a very
important member" of the military command structure.

How exactly the relationship between the civilian leadership and the
disparate military units will work remains unclear. Libya is still
without a functioning government, and several towns outside the
capital remain loyal to Kadafi, who was ousted last month when rebels
took over Tripoli.

Some rebel fighters have grumbled that their voices are not being
heard while a group of civilians who mostly sat out the war seeks to
fulfill its task of creating a government. The civilian leadership has
vowed to help integrate the fighters into the new Libya. How the
nation will be disarmed looms as a major challenge.

Meanwhile, news agencies reported that rebel troops advanced again
into one of Kadafi's strongholds, the desert town of Bani Walid, about
90 miles southeast of Tripoli. Heavy resistance from pro-Kadafi forces
was reported as rebels moved into a northern strip of town. On
Saturday, rebel forces withdrew from the city under heavy fire.

Two other cities, coastal Surt, Kadafi's birthplace, and the southern
municipality of Sabha, also remain in the hands of Kadafi loyalists.
Offensives may also be launched to take those cities, officials in
Tripoli said. The transitional government has said it cannot declare
the nation liberated until the entire country is free of Kadafi's
rule. A declaration of liberation is needed before the country can
start on a timetable for elections and the drafting of a constitution.

patrick.mcdonnell@xxxxxxxxxxx
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