Global Politics

What To Do About Libya's Weapons

Libyan rebels seem to have more or less taken control of the country. And it's now awash in guns. As reporter Derek Stoffel reports, many wonder what happens with all the weapons looted from Gaddafi forces when the battles are finished:

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NATO has helped rebels in Libya gain the upper hand there but one NATO member, Germany, is concerned with how German assault rifles ended up in the hands of Libyan rebels. The rebels looted them from Gaddafi's arsenals, but Germany said they never made a deal with Gaddafi to sell him the German-made weapons.

The German concerns underscore a bigger worry once the fighting in Libya is over: locating all the weapons looted from Libyan army depots over the last six months.

It was no secret that Muammar Gaddafi had amassed a very well-stocked arsenal. Much of it was state of the art, from the latest assault rifles and surface-to-air missiles to anti-tank systems. When anti-Gaddafi forces started this revolution, one of the first things they did was ransack the Libyan military arms depots in the eastern side of the country.

Now, with the rebels controlling most of the country, it seems every young fighter has a gun.

You see them on almost every corner in the capital Tripoli, at every check-point. In Tripoli, now that most of the fighting is over, the guns are mainly used to celebrate the victory by the anti-Gaddafi forces. But when this revolution is over, what happens to the arsenal of weapons looted from the Libyan Army?

Moustafa Mujber said like most rebel fighters, he plans to hand his AK-47 over to the transitional government. "Please take my gun from me," Mujber said. "I have no reason to keep it in a drawer any more."

And from new transitional government comes reassuring words that the guns will all be collected in an orderly fashion.

"For 42 years, the people of Libya have been treated very badly," said the new justice minister Mohammad al-Alagi. "That's why so many now carry guns, to protect themselves. But absolutely we will collect all these weapons."

But it's not just Kalashnikovs on the loose. Reporters stumbled upon what was until recently a secret Libyan military arms depot south of Tripoli where dozens of anti-Gaddafi men were walking away with anything they could get their hands on.

Idi al-Beck showed what's on offer. "These are different weapons. Tank weapons. Machines, guns machines. There's a lot of things there," al-Beck said.

There is real concern that these advanced weapons could end up being sold on the black market, fetching thousands of dollars apiece in some cases.

That's exactly what happened after the war in Iraq in 2003.

Fred Abrahams is a researcher with Human Rights Watch based in New York. He's now working in Tripoli. He said left abandoned, the weapons are going to slip into the wrong hands.

"The bigger stuff that we've seen, including surface to air missiles that can target a civilian airliner, that's the kind of weaponry that could obviously be used by terrorist groups," Abrahams said. "It should be top priority and it needs to be secured immediately."

Abrahams said now that the fighting in Libya is coming to an end, the priority should be tracking all these weapons and making sure they stay put.

"It doesn't take all that much. You post a couple of guards in front of these depots," he said. "But unfortunately that wasn't done, and many of these depots have already been looted in eastern Libya. Now, with western Libya just coming under the control of the rebels there's a chance to still do it."

But it will have to happen soon. There is concern that if people in Libya hold on their weapons, and hide them, they could be used to disrupt the stability of the transitional government.

But the bigger concern is that these weapons are smuggled out of the country. They could fall into the hands of terrorist groups such as al Shabab in Africa or Al-Qaeda.

That's why Human Rights Watch is calling on the United States to beef up its intelligence, to make sure all these weapons aren't lost in the haze of post-revolution Libya.

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