Regional rebel rivalries

By and

Published: September 25, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya — When the fighters who ousted Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi find caches of weapons from his arsenals, they do not entrust them to Libya’s new provisional government. Instead, they haul them back to their hometowns, like Misurata, Zintan, Yafran or Rujban. And when they capture members of the Qaddafi government, the fighters say, they cart them home as well.

“Why shouldn’t we?” said Mohamed Benrasali, a Misurata member of the Transitional National Council, the interim governing authority. “We call them the spoils of war.”

Anwar Fekini, a leader from the Nafusa Mountain town of Rujban, agreed: “All of us, we do the same.”

As the former rebels in Libya try to assemble a government to replace the toppled Qaddafi government, the quiet hoarding of weapons and detainees illustrates the fissures of regional rivalry and mutual distrust that continue to impede progress.

It has been almost two months since the leaders of the Transitional National Council promised to assemble a new cabinet, amid recriminations over the still-unsolved assassination of their top military commander, and they renewed that pledge more than a month ago when Tripoli fell.

But after meeting to try again on Sunday, the council’s top officials have still not overcome regional disputes over the composition of the cabinet, even though it is expected to hold power for only the first eight months after the official “liberation” of Libya is declared.

This vacuum at the top is, in turn, holding back efforts to unify the country, exert civilian authority over freewheeling militias, and get control of the weapons that now flood the streets.

Negotiations are deadlocked, council members say, over how to divide power among groups from different regions. Leaders from Benghazi, Misurata, Zintan and other cities all argue that their suffering or their contributions during the revolt entitle them to a greater voice.

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