By Asmaa Elourfi and Essam Mohamed
Libyans on Saturday (September 29th) began handing over thousands of guns, mortars, rockets and even tanks at a weapons collection drive in Benghazi and Tripoli.
In Benghazi, citizens turned out to celebrate the handover of weapons from revolutionaries to the national army at al-Tahrir Square.
They chanted slogans such as “No to armed manifestations in Benghazi!”, “No to weapons all over Libya!”, “Yes to the police and army!”, and “We want security and safety away from terrorism!”
“The initiative to handover citizens’ weapons in Benghazi is a 100% correct step,” Salah Saad said. “This will help the state move forward. We hope that all other cities will hand over weapons, especially heavy weapons. This is the first step in the right direction.”
The weapons collection programme follows a series of massive demonstrations against the continuing presence of armed brigades. In the wake of the attack on the US consulate, some 30,000 citizens held a Benghazi rally to demand militias disarm.
“The army’s chief of staff should have worked on solving all legitimate and illegitimate brigades and annex them to the army,” commented Al-Tayeb Abdul Malek.
Hundreds of shells, ammunition for RPGs, tanks, heat-seeking missiles, mortars and medium 14.5mm machine guns were handed over. Heavy weapons were handed over to the national army which will carry them to its camps.
In Benghazi alone, people handed over 16,000 weapons and their components, including 10 mortars, 300 RPGs, 400 Kalashnikovs, 250 pistols and 300 grenades. Authorities also collected more than 20,000 pieces of ammunition.
“We are astonished by the positive turnout,” Colonel Hussein Abdullah Khalifa told AFP.
In Tripoli, a citizen from Az-Zawiya handed over large quantities of weapons which he said he obtained from battles against Kadhafi’s forces in Jufra, Sirte and other areas in southern Libya. He handed over 14.5mm and 10.5mm machine guns, FN guns, a Kalashnikov and different ammunition.
Most people handed in assault rifles, Tripoli campaign organiser Ziad Hadia said. “We also received six heat-seeking missiles.”
The commander of al-Borkan Brigade in Tripoli, which joined the Supreme Security Committee, handed over 32 anti-tank shells, 14.5mm machine guns and a radio system. Two tanks and many 14.5mm and 12.5mm guns, rifles and pistols were also turned in.
A young man who handed over seven special pistols used by Kadhafi’s Special Forces said that he found them at Kadhafi’s Revolutionary Committees’ al-Mathaba al-Oum and demanded all those who have the same and other weapons hand them over as well.
At 10:00pm on Saturday, organisers of the collection drive raffled off prizes in Tripoli and Benghazi. Prizes included four vehicles, air tickets, iPads, PCs, plasma TVs and computer courses.
The handover of weapons is still on-going in other regions of Libya.
In his turn, Mohamed Karkara said the weapons collection drive was “an excellent move. Handing over weapons is the right decision taken by the people in response to this initiative.”
“It’s about time we built the state and said farewell to arms,” Karkara added.