By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, March 25: Sirte Local Council has agreed to hand over four local militia members accused of opening fire on . . .[restrict]an Interior Ministry militia convoy on Thursday, wounding one man from Misrata. A plane has been sent to Sirte airport to take the four to Tripoli for interrogation.
The agreement followed a military standoff over the past two days which has seen Sirte surrounded by Interior Ministry and Misrata troops. Heavy weaponry was brought in. A number of international NGOs pulled their people out of the town fearing an attack.
The trouble started following the visit to the town on Thursday by Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Prime Minister Abdurrahim Aj-Kib and members of the NTC and government to assure local residents that it would be rebuilt.
Sirte, Qaddafi’s claimed birthplace, was massively damaged in the fighting last October which ended in his capture and death. Such was the devastation that of the 75,000 inhabitants before the revolution, only 30 percent are there now. Last November, when the then prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, estimated the cost of rebuilding Libya at $400 billion, the reconstruction of Sirte was said to be the single largest element.
On Thursday, Interior Ministry forces, backed by the newly united militia from Misrata, went to Sirte to ensure security during Jalil’s and Al-Kib’s visit. However, after they had left, members of Sirte’s Jalit Brigade reportedly opened fire on the returning forces. The attack took place at a checkpoint some 50 kilometres west of Sirte.
The Interior Ministry then demanded that the four brigadesman suspected of the attack be handed over. They gave Sirte until 1.00pm Saturday afternoon to deliver them. After the deadline expired without the four being handed over, the Misrata brigade took up positions around the town, threatening to attack unless the alleged attackers were delivered. They also demanded that the Jalit brigade be dissolved.
A number of locals left Sirte amid rumours that it was about to be attacked. The local council reportedly tried to bargain but both the Misrata brigade and the Interior Ministry refused to concede, leading to today’s agreement to hand the four over.
A week ago, a news photographer, Mohammed Idris Sulaiman, was shot dead by a checkpoint guard at Sirte. The alleged assailant was later arrested. [/restrict]