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Benghazi citizens worry about flood of weapons

22 june 2011, 16:43
The crack of gunfire that echoes hourly across rebel-held Benghazi was once seen as a bit of revolutionary fun, but increasingly residents are worried by their streets being awash with weapons, AFP reports.

It does not take much effort to find a gun in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi; a young teenager poising with a loaded machine gun or a private security guard bouncing an assault rifle off his newly bought boots.

It is even easier to hear these weapons in action.

Since rebels liberated the city from Moamer Kadhafi's forces in February the guns and ammunition -- once used in self-defence -- have turned into playthings to be fired into the air at will.

As Kadhafi compounds fell it was easy to pluck the weapons from the debris.

Seized dynamite, at times used to fish off the city's Mediterranean coast, also provides a bit of night time entertainment.

For the few and who missed out, an AK-47 can still be found with ease, although it might cost anywhere up to $2,000 (1,400 euros, 3,000 Libyan dinars).

What is clear is that few in Benghazi are willing to give up their arms just yet. With Kadhafi's forces bearing down on the neighbouring city of Ajdabiya, just 150 kilometers (90 miles) away, the weapons may yet be needed.

"I'll give it back, but not before I know everything is safe," said one young man who plucked a Kalashnikov from an arsenal that later exploded. He asked not to be named.

In a culture where pride and reputation are carefully defended, the worry is any serious dispute can now quickly involve arms.

"I want to give it back and I want others to give them back because I don't trust people with them; I don't trust myself," he explained.

And it is not just Libyans who are worried.

"It is clear that one result of the conflict in Libya is the widespread proliferation of all kind of weaponry amongst the Libyan population," said Pieter Wezeman, a researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

"This may feed the conflict right now, but may also lead to long-term effects regarding political or criminal violence in the country."

Another worry is that when Libya's war is over the weapons could fuel conflict in the many neighbouring countries that suffer from violence: Niger, Chad or Sudan being top of the list.

The rebel National Transitional Council, lacking capacity and facing a plethora of other problems, has made the first tentative steps toward disarming the population, but with little impact.

For now the cracks and bangs that define Benghazi's soundscape seem likely to continue, as bored young men revel at having replaced a police state with a state that has few police at all.

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