Libyan Militia, Army Clash Near Tripoli Airport

Posted December 11th, 2011 at 12:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Libyan officials say a gunbattle broke out near the Tripoli international airport when army troops clashed with members of a powerful militia that controls the facility after they opened fire on a convoy carrying one of the country's most senior military leaders.

Army spokesman Abdel-Razik el-Shibahy Sunday accused revolutionary fighters from the western mountain town of Zintan of attempting to assassinate General Khalifa Haftar as his convoy approached the airport. He told the Associated Press the Zintan fighters mistakenly believed the army was coming to attack them.

Senior members of the Zintan unit denied they tried to kill Haftar, blaming the violence on the army's failure to notify them that the general was coming.

Members of the group – which controls a number of checkpoints on the highway leading to the airport – said Haftar's convoy failed to stop at one of their security posts late Saturday, causing its fighters to pursue the motorcade and attack it.

Haftar has not given his account of the events.

Libya's international airport has already been the focus of friction between rival militias. The semiautonomous groups that fought against former leader Moammar Gadhafi still control a number of key locations.

Most militia leaders say publicly they are ready to hand over control to Libya's new national police and army. But nearly two months after the fighting ended, there is still no consensus about who should hold key posts.

Haftar was named to replace military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis, who was killed in July under murky circumstances. Rebels insist Gadhafi loyalists assassinated Younis, but several witnesses say he was killed by fellow revolutionaries.