Libyan authorities regain control of Tripoli airport
LIBYAN authorities have regained control of Tripoli international airport after a militia seized the tarmac and grounded all flights.
"The authorities have complete control over the airport," deputy interior minister Omar al-Khadrawi told journalists in the capital, adding that dozens of assailants were arrested and stripped of their weapons.
Earlier militia who fought against Col Muammar Gadaffi in the Arab Spring uprising seized control, forcing all flights to be grounded, in protest at their leader who has disappeared.
Officials said aircraft were surrounded by cars mounted with anti-aircraft guns, while some passengers were also forced to leave planes.
The gunmen reportedly seized the airport to pressure the government to explain the whereabouts of Abu Ajila al-Habshi, leader of the Al-Awfya brigade from Tarhouna, 50 miles southeast of Tripoli, who has disappeared. They believe that he is being held in the airport by the Tripoli Security Committee.
Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) is still struggling to fully integrate the Libyan militias who fought Muammar Gaddafi's forces in last year's uprising. The former rebels have remained in organised armed brigades, taking it upon themselves to ensure law and order in the absence of fully functional police and armed forces.
In a separate development on Monday, a military tribunal convicted and jailed 24 men from the former Soviet Union on charges of serving Col Gaddafi as mercenaries, rejecting claims they were innocent oil workers.
A Russian national accused of being the group's ringleader was sentenced to life in prison. The other men – a second Russian, three nationals from Belarus and 19 Ukrainians – were given 10-year jail terms with hard labour.
The convictions were the first that Libya's transitional government has managed to secure against foreigners accused of serving in the late dictator's armed forces as snipers and hired gunmen during last year's uprising.
More than 5,000 people were arrested as the victorious rebels swept into Tripoli last summer. But human rights groups said that most of them were innocent migrant workers wrongly identified as mercenaries and many are thought to have been released.
The convicted men, who were not named, were said to have primed ground-to-air missile batteries used to target Nato warplanes supporting the rebels. They were described as engineers working at a repair and overhaul facility for the Libyan air force, which was destroyed during the first days of the Nato mission.
The men denied the charges, saying they were working for a joint oil venture between Russia and Libya.