Libyan gen­eral in east re­jects UN-backed gov­ern­ment

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

A pow­er­ful Libyan gen­eral whose forces re­cently cap­tured sev­eral key oil fa­cil­i­ties has re­jected a UN-bro­kered gov­ern­ment and said the coun­try would be bet­ter served by a leader with “high-level mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In a se­ries of writ­ten re­sponses to ques­tions from The As­so­ci­ated Press this week, Field Mar­shal Khal­ifa Hifter said his army only rec­og­nizes the author­ity of the Libyan par­lia­ment based in the east, which has also re­jected the UN-backed gov­ern­ment in the cap­i­tal, Tripoli.

Libya was plunged into chaos by the 2011 up­ris­ing that top­pled and killed long-time leader Moam­mar Gaddafi, and for the last two years has been split by ri­val au­thor­i­ties based in the far east and in Tripoli, in the west.

The two sides are deeply di­vided on Hifter’s fu­ture role in the coun­try. In the east, he is seen as the kind of strong, ex­pe­ri­enced mil­i­tary leader who can de­feat Is­lamic ex­trem­ists and re­store or­der to the oil-rich North African coun­try. In the west, where pow­er­ful Is­lamist mili­tias hold sway, he is seen as rem­nant of the Gaddafi gov­ern­ment — which he once served — and an as­pir­ing strong­man.

Hifter said lit­tle to put such fears to rest.

He cited gen­er­als who went on to lead Western na­tions, as well as Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi in neigh­bor­ing Egypt, who led the mil­i­tary ouster of an elected Is­lamist pres­i­dent in 2013 and has presided over a sweep­ing crack­down on dis­sent.

“Mil­i­tary peo­ple who were elected to lead their coun­try achieved re­mark­able suc­cess,” Hifter said.

Asked if he in­tended to seek the high­est of­fice, Hifter de­murred, say­ing the coun­try first needed se­cu­rity, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sta­bil­ity, and that he would not an­swer the ques­tion un­til that was achieved.

The UN-backed gov­ern­ment is led by a pres­i­den­tial coun­cil headed by Fayez Ser­raj, an in­de­pen­dent tech­no­crat. It was sup­posed to present a new Cab­i­net to par­lia­ment for ap­proval af­ter law­mak­ers re­jected the last one in Au­gust, but has yet to do so.

Egypt has backed Hifter who, like el-Sissi, blames much of his coun­try’s prob­lems on the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood group. He says Tripoli has been “hi­jacked” by armed gangs, blam­ing dis­or­der there and the ex­pan­sion of rogue mili­tias on Is­lamist fac­tions.

Hifter has also lashed out at UN en­voy Martin Kobler, ac­cus­ing him of “med­dling” in Libyan af­fairs af­ter he al­legedly sought to set up a meet­ing be­tween Hifter and Ser­raj to dis­cuss the makeup of the Libyan army.

Both Hifter’s troops and forces loyal to the UN-backed gov­ern­ment are bat­tling the Is­lamic State group and other ex­trem­ists. Mili­tias from the city of Mis­rata, in the west, have driven IS mil­i­tants out of most of their last

ur­ban strong­hold, Sirte, with the help of U.S. airstrikes.

But there are con­cerns that vic­tory against IS could bring re­newed con­flict be­tween east and west.

Ear­lier this month, Hifter’s forces ac­cused a mili­tia from Mis­rata of car­ry­ing out an airstrike that killed at least six women and a child near Sirte. The Mis­ratans de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

Hifter’s forces also re­cently seized three key oil ter­mi­nals — at Ras Lanuf, al-Sidra and Zueitina — from a mili­tia al­lied with the UN-backed gov­ern­ment, draw­ing in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion. The U.S., France, Ger­many, Italy, Spain and Bri­tain called on his forces to with­draw from the ter­mi­nals, say­ing the Tripoli gov­ern­ment is the “sole stew­ard” of the re­sources and warn­ing against “il­licit oil ex­ports.”

Ex­ports from the Ras Lanuf ter­mi­nal have re­sumed, and Hifter said in the in­ter­view that he had re­turned them to the author­ity of the Na­tional Oil Cor­po­ra­tion. Oil rev­enues are chan­neled to the cen­tral bank, which is un­der the author­ity of Tripoli. He also said he has no plans to with­draw from the area.

“The Libyan Na­tional Army’s pri­or­i­ties are to pro­tect the oil fields and ports of ex­port,” he said.

He also called on the UN to lift an em­bargo on weapons sales to Libya, and help it re­move mines left in “huge quan­ti­ties” by IS fight­ers in res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods they have been driven from. He blamed au­thor­i­ties in the west for the ram­pant smug­gling of mi­grants bound for Europe, which he blamed on the mili­tias and the “ab­sence of state author­ity.”

Hifter re­turned to Libya af­ter decades in ex­ile dur­ing the 2011 up­ris­ing against Gaddafi. Hifter had played a key role in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power and even­tu­ally be­came his top gen­eral. He was cap­tured dur­ing the 1980s war with Chad. Af­ter the war ended in 1987, he de­fected and even­tu­ally fled to the United States.

While liv­ing in ex­ile in Vir­ginia, he be­came com­man­der of the armed wing of the Libyan Na­tional Sal­va­tion Front and or­ches­trated a cou­ple of failed coup at­tempts against Gaddafi be­fore break­ing with the op­po­si­tion group. In in­ter­views with Arab me­dia in the 1990s, he de­scribed him­self as build­ing an armed force with U.S. as­sis­tance to top­ple Gaddafi and his as­so­ciates. A 1996 Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port sug­gested that the United States pro­vided money and train­ing to the Na­tional Sal­va­tion Front.

Hifter has long de­nied ever work­ing for the CIA, but now he says he has proof.

“If I was work­ing for US in­tel­li­gence they would be my first sup­port­ers with weapons and money,” he said.

Photo: AP

A child ex­am­ines a sculp­ture of a crocodile in the precinct where ac­tivists ear­lier marched past the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, (CITES) in Sand­ton, Jo­han­nes­burg, on Satur­day. Con­ser­va­tion­ists say poach­ing syn­di­cates moved large ship­ments of ele­phant ivory in 2015, de­spite in­creas­ing calls to dis­man­tle traf­fick­ing net­works that of­ten col­lude with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. A doc­u­ment re­leased by con­fer­ence or­ga­niz­ers says the il­le­gal ivory trade “has re­mained fairly con­stant at un­ac­cept­ably high lev­els” since 2010

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