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Libya to include rebels in military from January

Former fighters protest at the office of Libya's Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib in Tripoli
Former fighters protest at the office of Libya's Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib in Tripoli

By Mahmoud Habboush

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya will include thousands of former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in its armed forces from January, the defense minister said on Sunday, testing the government's ability to get rebel leaders to cede command of their fighters.

Although rebels met a deadline imposed by the National Transitional Council (NTC) to withdraw this week from the capital Tripoli, militias led by rival commanders still guard key installations and checkpoints across the city.

The lack of a fully functioning army and police force, has given militias free rein to fight turf wars after the uprising that ended Gaddafi's 42-year dictatorship in August.

"The program aims at including the revolutionaries in many fields including defense," Osama al-Juwali, interim defense minister told a news conference also attended by interim interior minister Fawzi Abd al-All.

"The idea is to inject new blood in the army which was marginalized by the tyrant (Gaddafi)," said Juwali who was commander of the Zintan militia that captured Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam in November.

Abd al-All said the rebels were also invited to take up positions in the interior ministry which, he said, was understaffed. He said they could also apply for civilian jobs in government offices through the ministry of labor.

Lifting of the U.N. Security Council sanctions this month on Libya's central bank and a subsidiary means that the interim leaders have access to cash that could be used to offer the fighters well-paying government jobs.

Juwali said that part of the plan was to train the rebels to take up high-ranking positions in the military.

He said it would take a month to register and allocate them to the military, police and other civilian posts, and months before they were trained to guard borders and installations, including oilfields and refineries, now held by rival militias.

"Everyone is allowed to join the special forces, the navy and others," he said. Talks were being held with a number of countries to train rebels inside and outside Libya for the military, he said.

Gaddafi ignored the military, giving control to security militias led by either his sons or confidants.

Juwali said he was not concerned about occasional skirmishes among rebel factions and that he was continuously in contact with most of the rebel leaders.

"I am not worried about the revolutionaries," he told Reuters after the conference. "The revolutionaries ask me every day when can they hand in their weapons and ammunition, but I tell them to wait until we have the facilities to store them."

The latest major turf war broke out this month when armed men in the vehicles of Libya's new national army tried to take control of Tripoli's international airport from a powerful Zintan militia unit.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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