Monday, April 1, 2013

Libya's south teeters toward chaos — and militant extremists

    Monday, April 01, 2013   No comments


SABHA, Libya — Their fatigues don't match and their pickup has no windshield. Their antiaircraft gun, clogged with grit, is perched between a refugee camp and ripped market tents scattered over an ancient caravan route. But the tribesmen keep their rifles cocked and eyes fixed on a terrain of scouring light where the oasis succumbs to desert.

"If we leave this outpost the Islamist militants will come and use Libya as a base. We can't let that happen," said Zakaria Ali Krayem, the oldest among the Tabu warriors. "But the government hasn't paid us in 14 months. They won't even give us money to buy needles to mend our uniforms."

Krayem is battling smugglers, illegal migrants bound for Europe and armed extremists who stream across a swath of the Sahara near the porous intersection of southern Libya, Chad, Niger and Algeria. Since the 2011 Arab uprisings that swept away Moammar Kadafi and other autocrats, Western countries and Libya's neighbors fear that this nation may emerge as an Islamist militant foothold.

Kadafi was replaced by a weak central government that has struggled with economic turmoil and the lack of judicial reform and a new constitution. The long-neglected south has grown more lawless. The Al Qaeda-linked militants, including Libyans, behind the January assault on a natural gas processing complex in Algeria that killed at least 37 foreigners traveled from Mali through Niger and Libya's poorly patrolled hinterlands.


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