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30 arrested after Libyan airport standoff

From Nic Robertson, CNN
June 5, 2012 -- Updated 0909 GMT (1709 HKT)
Libyan government forces arrive at Tripoli international airport on June 4, 2012.
Libyan government forces arrive at Tripoli international airport on June 4, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The government deploys 5,000 security forces
  • Authorities arrest 30 militia members
  • Security checkpoints spring up around Tripoli
  • Earlier militia members seized the airport over a dispute with the national government

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libyan authorities arrested 30 militia members Monday after the group stormed Tripoli's airport, demanding the release of a rebel leader, the nation's labor minister said.

The government deployed 5,000 security forces to the airport area and regained control of the facility, Mustafa A. Rugibani said later in the day.

After Tarhouna militia forces seized part of the airport, armed militia members escorted passengers to cars, describing it as an evacuation of the terminal, according to local journalists who have worked with CNN in the past.

Black smoke rose from fires set in the runway area, and sporadic gunfire could be heard.

Tripoli airport reportedly seized

Government security checkpoints sprang up around the city on Monday amid tension over the airport standoff.

The whereabouts of the militia leader whose release the group was demanding was unknown.

Officials at a Cabinet meeting determined that the militia leader had not been detained by the government, Rugibani said, and questioned whether word of his disappearance may have been a ruse by the militia to create a pretext for the airport standoff.

But militia members at the airport earlier Monday disputed that possibility, saying they would withdraw forces only after government officials released the rebel leader.

National Transitional Council spokesman Mohammed al-Haraizi was quoted by the official Libyan Arab News Agency as saying the NTC "condemns the kidnapping of Colonel Abu Ajaila al-Habshi, calling on the specialized authorities to investigate the incident."

Al-Haraizi said in a statement that, on Sunday evening, a force at a checkpoint into Tripoli near the airport stopped a force led by al-Habshi comprising two tanks and a number of armed vehicles, LANA said. It added that al-Habshi had been authorized by the army chief of staff to take the tanks to a base in Tripoli.

"After documents were checked, the force was allowed to move, but an unidentified force intercepted al-Habshi and kidnapped him," it said.

Al-Haraizi added that al-Habshi's men had gone to the airport believing he was being held there.

"After negotiations and convincing the group that the state does not have al-Habshi and does not know where he is, the force left the airport and it is now under the full control of the national army and security forces," he said.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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