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Libya weapons sales unhindered

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 6:30 p.m.
FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 28, 2011 file photo, Libyan militia members who are part of the forces against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi organize their munitions at a military base in Benghazi, eastern Libya. At the heart of the Libyan capital, the open-air Fish Market was once where residents went to buy everything from meat and seafood to clothes and pets. Now it’s Tripoli’s biggest arms market, with tables displaying pistols and assault rifles. Ask a vendor, and he can pull out bigger machine guns to sell for thousands of dollars. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)

TRIPOLI, Libya — At the heart of the Libyan capital, the open-air Fish Market was once a place where residents went to buy everything from meat and seafood to clothes and pets. Now it's Tripoli's biggest arms market, with tables displaying pistols and assault rifles. Ask a vendor, and he can pull out bigger machine guns to sell for thousands of dollars.

Libya, where hundreds of militias hold sway and the central government is virtually powerless, is awash in millions of weapons with no control over their trafficking. The arms free-for-all not only fuels Libya's instability but stokes conflicts around the region as guns are smuggled through the country's wide-open borders to militants fighting in insurgencies and wars stretching from Syria to West Africa.

The lack of control is at times stunning. Last month, militia fighters stole a planeload of weapons sent by Russia for Libya's military when it stopped to refuel at Tripoli International Airport en route to a base in the south. The fighters surrounded the plane on the tarmac and looted the shipment of automatic weapons and ammunition, Hashim Bishr, an official with a Tripoli security body under the Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press.

In a further indignity, the fighters belonged to a militia officially assigned by the government to protect the airport because regular forces are too weak to do it.

Only a few weeks earlier, another militia seized a weapons shipment that landed at Tripoli's Mitiga Airport meant for the military's 1st Battalion, Bishr said.

The weapons chaos has alarmed Europe — just a short distance across the Mediterranean — and the United States.

A 97-page report released in March by United Nations Panel of Experts said weapons that originated in Libya were found in 14 countries, often reaching militant groups. The report said smuggling is mainly from Libyan militias' arsenals.

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