U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, in Tripoli, urges Libya to secure weapons

TRIPOLI, Libya — U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Libya’s Transitional National Council on Wednesday to secure the stockpiles of chemical and conventional weapons and nuclear material left by Moammar Gaddafi’s government.

Ban, speaking in Tripoli, where he said he had come to “salute the brave people of Libya” after the country’s declaration of liberation last month, said the United Nations would send a team of weapons experts to help ensure that dangerous materials were secured.

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At what he called “very productive” meetings with Libya’s new interim prime minister, Abdurrahim el-Keib, and other members of the transitional government, Ban also called for securing the heavy artillery held by the rebels who led the country’s eight-month uprising.

Ban’s remarks came after the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous adoption of a resolution Tuesday expressing concern at the flood of weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, reaching militias and the possibility that the weapons could end up in the hands of regional terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In the aftermath of the revolution that ended Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, border security has deteriorated, and Libyan authorities and diplomats worry that extremists and insurgent groups loyal to Gaddafi could acquire arms and easily travel in and out of the country.

Speaking alongside Ban at a news conference in Tripoli, interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said the government had conveyed to the U.N. chief that its members understood the need to disarm fighters but that it lacked funds to do so; many of Libya’s assets remain frozen after the imposition of extensive sanctions against Gaddafi’s regime.

Despite Gaddafi’s death and the defeat of forces loyal to him, efforts to encourage tens of thousands of armed rebels to give up their weapons have been limited to a few symbolic gestures.

Additionally, plans to incorporate rebel fighters into the nation’s armed services have progressed slowly, and tensions between some of the groups are high. Recent armed scuffles at a hospital and airport in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, appear to have been sparked by friction between militia groups.

Omar Gayad, the head of the military council in the city of Misurata, which experienced some of the fiercest fighting during the conflict, was doubtful about persuading his fighters, many of whom became heroes to Libyans when they took up arms and joined the uprising, to relinquish their weapons.

“We all want this, but it is not that easy,” Gayad said, adding that he had started plans to “rehabilitate” the revolutionaries and collect their arms. “It’s going to take some time. It is not going to happen all at once.”

 
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