National

Rounding up weapons a problem for Libyans

TRIPOLI, Libya — More than two months after the fall of Tripoli, Libya's new leaders are still struggling to secure massive weapons depots, stop the smuggling of munitions out of the country and disarm thousands of fighters who brought down Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The international community has offered to help, but also expects Libyans to step up. However, the interim leadership — in limbo until the formation of a new government mid-month — may not be up to the task. Libya's temporary leader, responding to increasingly urgent international appeals, said he can't do much because he lacks the funds.

As recently as last month, Human Rights Watch researchers found an unguarded weapons site with thousands of crates of rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft rounds in the Libyan desert.

Libyan authorities also discovered two military compounds housing chemical weapons that an official said were ready to be assembled and used, as well as another site containing 7,000 drums of raw uranium. The officials would not give further details. Chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Libya this week to start securing the sites, a U.N. official said.

Failure to secure weapons has fueled fears that the material could fall into the wrong hands, including shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles that could pose a threat to civil aviation.

Compounding the problem, the myriad brigades of revolutionary fighters so far have refused to disarm, and there has been a rash of personal score-settling by armed men from rival groups, including a shootout at a Tripoli hospital this week. Libyan leaders used to play down the danger of the massive weapons presence, but are now increasingly worried.

Earlier this week, the U.N. Security Council urged Libyan authorities to take quick action, saying it fears the weapons, especially shoulder-held missiles, could fall into the hands of armed groups and terrorists. The United States has previously sent weapons experts to Libya and has contributed about $40 million toward destroying surface-to-air missiles, which can be used to shoot down planes.

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