After deadly clashes between rival fighters in the capital this week, Libya's transitional government has expressed growing concern that the country could descend into civil war if its militias are not brought under control.
The leader of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, warned that the government faced "bitter options" as it struggles to reign in thousands of militia fighters whose ad hoc units formed during months of battles against Moammar Gadhafi and have remained in the capital long after his death.
Since Gadhafi's fall, gun battles have periodically erupted in the capital, Tripoli, between rival groups from other areas of the country who poured into the city as it fell and proceeded to stake out territory last summer.
With large numbers of fighters lingering, Jalil described the dilemma facing the country in a speech in the eastern city of Benghazi late Tuesday.
"We deal with these violations strictly and put the Libyans in a military confrontation, which we don't accept," he was quoted by Reuters as saying. "Or we split and there will be a civil war."
The country's transitional leaders have tried to create a robust national army by cobbling together the remnants of Gadhafi's military and integrating former rebel fighters. They have tried to coax other fighters into civilian life by creating jobs for those who disarm. But those efforts have faltered, Jalil said.
"The response has been weak so far," he said. "People are holding on to their weapons."
The militias are reluctant to disarm because they hope to protect their regions' interests as the future government takes shape.