TRIPOLI, Libya — Disarming former Libyan rebels could take months and weapons will not be taken by force, Libya's new prime minister said in an interview broadcast Friday, signaling a shift from previous pledges of quick action.
Abdurrahim el-Keib also acknowledged that the National Transitional Council, which is to lead Libya to its first free election within eight months, has not yet established full control over the country, but said it is making progress. The NTC declared Libya liberated on Oct. 23, three days after the capture and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The proliferation of armed ex-rebel militias in Libya and the NTC's still shaky grip have raised concerns about growing instability during the transition period, which is to end with the election of a national assembly by June.
Thousands of civilians across Libya took up arms during the eight-month war that brought down Gadhafi. Some have returned to their pre-war lives, but others have remained in their fighting units, manning checkpoints and patrolling streets. In recent weeks, there have been reports of fighters using weapons to settle personal scores.
El-Keib, who will run the interim government for the next eight months, told France24 TV on Friday that collecting those weapons "is going to take some time."
"We will not force people to take quick and hasty decisions and actions and come up with some laws that just prevent people from holding arms," he said. Instead, the government will try to work with the fighters, by offering alternatives, including training and jobs, he said.
"Hopefully, before the eight months end, we will be able to have those armed freedom fighters lay down their arms and go back to their business," he added.
The NTC is to adopt a "transitional justice" law in coming days to help it deal with some of the problems of the interim period, including vigilante justice carried out by fighters against former supporters of the Gadhafi regime.
"Most of the violations are taking place because we don't have laws to carry out justice," said Jalal el-Gallal, an NTC spokesman. "That's why we need it (the law) as soon as possible."
According to a draft of the law, an independent fact-finding commission would be set up to hear complaints by victims of injustice, both under Gadhafi and in the transitional period. The commission would investigate the claims and make recommendations, including possible compensation or referral to the courts.
The head of the NTC, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said earlier this week that Libya's interim leaders also need quick access to billions of dollars in Gadhafi regime assets, frozen by a number of countries since the start of the war, to be able to disarm fighters and secure weapons.
Citing lack of funds, Abdul-Jalil said his government can't do much in the interim period to secure weapons sites and munitions depots that were left unguarded and exposed to looting during the war. Libyan border officials have reported heavy weapons smuggling into Egypt, and Israel has said some of those arms have reached the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Earlier this week, Libyan officials said they discovered chemical weapons that had previously not been declared by the Gadhafi regime when it pledged to abandon the pursuit of non-conventional weapons.
In the Netherlands, the organization that oversees the global ban on chemical weapons said it will work with Libyan authorities to verify and destroy chemical weapons. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it was told earlier this week of suspected chemical weapons caches beyond the stockpiles declared earlier by Gadhafi.
The organization said Friday that none of Gadhafi's known chemical arsenal was plundered during the civil war. Libya declared in 2004 it had tons of sulfur mustard and other chemicals used to make chemical weapons.
New details emerged Friday about the toll of the fighting in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte last month.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 400 bodies have been found in Sirte in the past two weeks. Gadhafi died in unclear circumstances Oct. 20 after being captured by ex-rebel forces in Sirte.
ICRC spokesman Steven Anderson in Geneva said all the dead appeared to have been killed in fighting but it wasn't possible to say to which side they belonged.
(This version CORRECTS that France24 is TV station).)