Benghazi: Libyan authorities have closed the capital Tripoli’s only functioning airport, diverting traffic to another one at the nearby militia-controlled city of Misrata.
The Monday move came after the UN-backed Tripoli government handed control of the facility from one militia to another, prompting the Transport Ministry to order its closure on security concerns.
Deputy Transport Minister Hisham Boushkiwat called the closing of Mitiga airport “unfortunate” but said that in the past “some things inside the airport have threatened traveller safety.”
He underlined ongoing nearby militia conflict in the capital as another reason behind the closure, but added that he hoped the airport would be reopened soon.
The airport has been closed in the past, including last week when it was attacked by missiles of an unknown provenance.
Powerful armed groups, including ultra-conservative Salafists and neighbourhood militiamen, have consolidated their grip under the watch of the internationally recognised government.
The growing strength and wealth of these “super militias” has stirred resentment among rivals excluded from the capital or from access to lucrative financial scams and the shadow economy.
The splits have also given space to militants trying to regroup after Daesh lost its stronghold of Sirte in 2016.
Since disputed elections and an escalation of fighting in 2014 there have been rival governments, one based in the east and the other in the capital Tripoli.
Tripoli is home to the unelected Government of National Accord (GNA), an interim administration brought in by a UN-brokered deal in December 2015.
The GNA has built some fragile alliances in western regions, but has little popular support or leverage over Tripoli’s militias, on which it depends for its own security.
Eastern Libya is under the control of the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by veteran military commander Khalifa Haftar, a former general under Muammar Gaddafi who fell out with the late dictator.
The east-west division has split key institutions and produced a deadlock between the rump parliaments aligned with rival, shifting military factions.
However, international support has allowed the NOC in Tripoli to retain control of fluctuating oil production, a vital source of income.
Energy revenues are processed through the central bank in Tripoli, which disburses state salaries, dollars for importers and funds for the GNA a process that Libya’s Audit Bureau and U.N. experts say is riddled with corruption.
Neither the eastern nor western camps have much control over Libya’s south, where communitarian violence sometimes erupts and where smugglers, Islamist militants and mercenaries are active.