Libya’s new leaders are moving to unite fractious, heavily armed bands of fighters under a singular control, even as the forces struggled Monday to take control of Moammar Gadhafi’s last bastions of support.
The announcement Sunday by the head of the National Transitional Council followed reports of in-fighting and arguments amongst bands of fighters stalled outside the town of Bani Walid after encountering stiff resistance during an assault.
Bani Walid, home to a powerful tribe loyal to Gadhafi, is one of three major towns still in the hands of those loyal to the ousted leader.
A large convoy of troops left the front after arguing with another group of fighters from Bani Walid, who insisted they alone take the lead in fighting to take the town, witnesses told CNN’s Ben Wedeman.
Pushing and shoving also broke out amongst the fighters, some of whom wanted the media to leave the area.
« What ensued was pushing, shoving, shouting, » said Wedeman, who watched the incident unfold. « Rocks were picked up. There was some rifle butting, and then one of the fighters manning a truck mounted a 14.5 (mm) anti-aircraft gun and opened fire in the air to restore order. »
Similar incidents have been reported during the months-long war, raising concerns about a lack of discipline and leadership among the ragtag group of fighters and the possible threat that could pose to the country’s stability.
Negotiations are under way with bands of fighters to bring them under the control of the council, said Mahmoud Jibril, chairman of the National Transitional Council.
Jibril called the move a strategic measure that would restate the legitimacy of the NTC, and it would « hone in all the brigades and revolutionaries under the umbrella of the NTC. »
But Anees al-Sharif, a spokesman of the new Tripoli military council, said the plan was « unacceptable. »
« We will not accept Jibril’s authority over us, » he told CNN.
Meanwhile, Jibril also announced that a transitional, governing executive committee will be created within 10 days, and will include representatives from across Libya, including areas of the country still under siege.
« A transitional government will be formed once all of Libya is liberated, » Jibril said.
The creation of the executive committee comes as Jibril said Libya has begun producing oil again.
Jibril said oil production began Saturday, though he would not disclose the location because of security concerns. He said additional production was expected in other areas.
« Soon, we will begin the production of oil and gas in the western area, » he said.
The news was tempered, though, by word that one of Gadhafi’s sons, Saadi, escaped Libya to Niger.
The son was accompanied by eight ex-Libyan officials, « of minor importance compared to Saadi, » said Niger’s Justice Minister Marou Amadou.
« As usual, Niger accepted them on (a) humanitarian basis, » he said.
Moammar Gadhafi’s wife, two of his sons and other relatives fled recently to Algeria, which also said it had acted on humanitarian grounds by accepting them.
Earlier this month, Saadi Gadhafi told CNN he was « a little bit outside » of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, but had been moving around.
He said then that he had not seen his father or brother, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, for two months. He said he is « neutral » and not on his father’s side or that of the rebels, but remains « ready to help negotiate a cease-fire. »
At least three Libyan convoys have entered Niger recently, carrying generals, family members and low-ranking Gadhafi regime personnel, according to officials in Niger. Initial speculation suggested that Moammar Gadhafi had been in one of those groups, but that no longer appears to be the case.
The whereabouts of the ousted Libyan leader are not known.
Meanwhile, Gadhafi’s former spy chief, Bouzaid Dorda, was been arrested in Tripoli, Adel al-Zintani, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council, told CNN late Sunday.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman, Kareem Khadder, Ian Lee, Raja Razek and Phil Black contributed to this report.