TRIPOLI, Libya – The Libyan government assumed control Friday of the country's main international airport, taking over from militia fighters who had been providing security for months in the absence of an official force to do the job.
The handover marked a step forward for Libya's new rulers as they try to stamp their authority on the country and bring under their control the various armed brigades that helped topple longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
Fighters from the powerful Zintan militia took control of the airport, the country's main air hub, eight months ago in the closing days of last year's civil war. In recent months, the militia's men had demanded that the government shoulder the responsibility of providing security at the airport and relieve them of the duty, or at least give them uniforms and employ them.
The government promised last month to take over security of the airport, but negotiations broke down. The dispute prompted the head of the militia at the airport to leave his post, highlighting the inability of the central government to function effectively since Gadhafi's fall.
On Friday, uniformed government troops took control of the airport, and the former rebels fired celebratory gunshots into the air to mark the occasion.
Defense Ministry official, Col. Ibrahim Hadoud, said he will now be heading a group of soldiers that will provide security for the airport and a 15-kilometer (10-mile) radius around it.
"These guys with me are former rebels who have joined the integration program by the Defense Ministry and have been trained," he said, referring to an effort by the government to encourage former rebels to hand over their weapons in exchange for jobs.
Militias comprised of former rebels have shouldered much of the responsibility of policing the country in the absence of a national army and police force since Gadhafi's fall. The militias operate outside the government's control.