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Clinton praises Libya for its move to rein in militias

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 25, 2012 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
  • Benghazi people "rejected the extremists," the secretary of state says
  • Hundreds marched last week in Benghazi
  • A deadline for the withdrawal of rogue militias ends Monday

New York (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the Libyan people Monday for their efforts to rid the country of the rogue militias blamed for the killings of four Americans this month, including the U.S. ambassador.

"The people of the Arab world did not set out to trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob," she said here in a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative. "There is no dignity in that. The people of Benghazi sent this message loudly and clearly on Friday, when they forcefully rejected the extremists in their midst and reclaimed the honor and dignity of a courageous city.

"They mourned the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens, a friend and champion of a free Libya, and his fallen comrades. They are not alone. People and leaders from across the region and the world and beyond have spoken in recent days against violence."

Clinton spoke as a 48-hour deadline approached for unauthorized militias in and around the Libyan captial, Tripoli, to withdraw from property belonging to the former regime under Moammar Gadhafi.

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In her speech, she referred to Friday's rally in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi where hundreds of protesters took over the headquarters of Ansar al Sharia, an Islamist militia that has been linked to the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed Stevens and three other Americans.

Ansar al Sharia is blamed for organizing the protest outside the consulate against an inflammatory video that mocks the Prophet Mohammed and that may have served as a cover for heavily armed militants to launch their attack on the complex. Libyan authorities have detained eight people including Ansar al Sharia members, Libya's prime minister said last week, though he added that not all the suspected attackers came from one specific group.

How the Benghazi attack unfolded

Ansar al Sharia is among the militias under orders to withdraw from military compounds, public buildings and property belonging to members of the former regime. So far, there has been no resistance from any of the unauthorized militias, a spokesman for Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur told CNN late Monday.

The Libyan army has vowed, if necessary, to "use force to carry out these orders," the state run LANA news agency reported shortly after Libya's military issued the deadline late Saturday.

The Libyan government has already begun its effort to impose control: army troops raided a former military base in Tripoli on Sunday, kicking out a rogue infantry brigade and detaining its members. And two Islamist militias -- Bou Salim Martyrs and Ansar al Sharia -- have agreed to disband, state-run media reported this weekend.

Militias and other unauthorized armed groups have been a growing concern in post-revolution Libya, however the issue didn't gain much attention until this month's attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

Just three months ago, the head of the U.S. Africa Command warned of a growing threat from al Qaeda and other militant groups in Libya.

"There is a real concern in Libya. As Libya is coming out of the revolution and forming its new government, there very clearly are those who wish to undermine the formation of that government," said Gen. Carter Ham in a speech to senior military and civilian officials from Africa, Europe and the United States.

"We see some worrying indicators that al Qaeda and others are seeking to establish a presence in Libya," Ham warned. Ham often worked closely with Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

The consulate attack underscores the power vacuum across Libya since the toppling of Gadhafi's regime last year, one analyst told CNN.

Fighting groups that battled Gadhafi have stepped in to maintain law and order after the fall of the regime, said Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The fledgling government is in a bind, he said, as officials try to demobilize militias and fold these groups into government security forces.

Militia members across Libya remain loyal to their groups and distrust the new government's authority, in part because of the "taint" of a link to the Gadhafi regime, Wehrey said.

In a February report, Amnesty International said militias in Libya were committing human rights abuses with impunity, threatening to destabilize the country and hindering its efforts to rebuild.

CNN's Barbara Starr, Jomana Karadsheh, Arwa Damon, Salma Abdelaziz and Tom Watkins contributed to this report.

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