Government force to secure Libya capital airport: minister

Libyan Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour (C-R) and undersecretary of the Ministry of Communications in the Al-Wefaq Government Hisham Abu Shkiwat (C-L) greet members of the security forces for Tripoli's Mitiga International Airport (AFP Photo/MAHMUD TURKIA)

Tripoli (AFP) - Libya's internationally recognised government on Monday said a "regular force" would be tasked with securing the capital's only working airport, closed again last week due to violence, the interior minister said.

Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces -- a Salafist militia that serves as Tripoli's police force.

Allied with Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord, the ultra-conservative group hunts down both jihadists and traffickers and holds suspected members of the Islamist State group and regular criminals in the compound's prison.

Rival armed groups regularly carry out attacks against the Mitiga base, forcing the airport to close several times.

On Tuesday rockets hit the airport's perimeter prompting a suspension of flights.

The airport, on Tripoli's eastern outskirts, had already been closed from August 31 to September 6 due to fighting between rival armed groups near the capital.

It reopened on September 7 after the United Nations brokered a ceasefire.

At a Monday press conference at the airport, Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said it would reopen in 72 hours after the establishment of a "regular force" led by a police colonel.

The new security force would only deal with the interior of the airport, Ashour added.

Security of its permitter would be "the responsibility of the armed forces and its general staff", he said, without specifying whether the Special Deterrence Forces would relocate or if the prison would be shuttered.

Deputy Transport Minister Hisham Abu Shkiwat said he expected the airport to reopen "within a few days" after it had come under attack five times since the start of the year.

The Libyan capital has been at the centre of a battle for influence between armed groups since dictator Moamer Kadhafi was ousted in 2011.