Wednesday 7 December 2016

UN-backed Libyan unity government threatens rival leaders with terror charges

Published 31/03/2016 | 19:21

Various factions are vying for power in Libya
Various factions are vying for power in Libya

Libya's UN-brokered unity government threatened on Thursday to send the names of 17 of the country's rival politicians, militia leaders and religious figures to the international police organisation Interpol and the UN Security Council for "supporting terrorism" if they continue to "impede democratic transition".

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The prime minister-designate of the UN-backed government, Fayez Serraj- who landed by sea in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Wednesday- is slowly taking steps to consolidate his grip on power in a country already split between two rival governments, two parliaments, and militias in eastern and western Libya.

One of Libya's rival governments is based in Tripoli. It is led by Khalifa Ghweil and its source of power is a loose set of Islamist-led militias. The second camp is based in the east, made up of Libya's last elected House of Representatives and it is supported by army units led by strongman Khalifa Hifter, and eastern militias and tribes.

The two rival camps have created a power struggle and a security vacuum, enabling the extremist Islamic State group to find a foothold in Libya. The group has taken over the central city of Sirte and carried deadly attacks across the country.

While the international community throws their support behind Mr Serraj, hoping he can unify Libya to pave the way for a joint military move against IS, the new, unity government adds another layer to the messy Libyan political structure. It could also create a paralysis in state institutions.

Mr Serraj's presidential council and government are a result of months-long U.N.-brokered political deal signed by groups from within the two parliaments, last year in Morocco.

The deal gave the eastern parliament all legislative powers while the parliament in Tripoli would have a consultative role through a new body, called the State Council.

In an attempt to pressure his opponents, Mr Serraj's security committee posted a list of 17 figures on its Facebook page on Thursday, including Mr Ghewil, the prime minister of the Islamist government in Tripoli, along with the head of the Tripoli-based parliament, Nouri Abu Sahmain, and self-declared religious chief, Mufti al-Sadeq al-Ghariyani.

The announcement came hours after Mr al-Ghariyani, who is a strong backer of the Tripoli camp, demanded Mr Serraj return to Tunisia until crucial amendments are made in the UN deal. He listed five objections to the deal, including the definition of terrorism and concentration of all legislative powers in the hands of the eastern parliament.

Mr al-Ghariyani said that the UN-backed government must "return to where it came from," otherwise all Libyans are ready to fight wage Jihad, or "holy war".

It's still unclear how Mr al-Ghariyani's threats could materialise. So far, the Tripoli government continues to work from its venue, protected by a powerful militia.

Mr Ghweil said on Thursday that he remains in office and that Mr Serraj should leave. Earlier, he had ordered the closure of western Libya's airspace to prevent Mr Serraj from flying into Tripoli.

In addition to security challenges, Mr Serraj could struggle to impose his authority on the Central Bank, the state-run oil company and other institutions in Libya. Mr Serraj was to meet with the head of the Central Bank on Friday, the bank's spokesman, Essam al-Awl, said.

On his first day in Tripoli, Mr Serraj remained confined inside the naval base on Thursday. He received 12 heads of Tripoli's municipal councils, according to Abdel-Raouf Beit al-Maal, one of Tripoli's chiefs.

The chiefs can help ease the militias out of the capital, said Beit al-Maal.

A militia force of some five pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, guarded the naval base. A few miles away, a tank was positioned on an overpass overlooking the base, along with five army vehicles belonging to the regular army. It remained unclear if these were renegade forces.

According to Abdel-Rahman al-Taweel, the head of the security committee affiliated to Mr Serraj's government, negotiations were under way onThursday with Tripoli militias to handover key government buildings in the capital.

Some buildings, like the foreign ministry, are under protection of another militia supportive to Mr Serraj.

Meanwhile, the armed force led by militia commander Ibrahim Jedran whose 27,000 troops control Libya's major oil terminals issued a statement Thursday pledging loyalty to Mr Serraj's government and vowed to "protect the Libyan people's rights from the terrorists".

Mr Jedran, a federalist who supported the eastern parliament but opposed army commander Mr Hifter, took control of the terminals in 2014. His troops have in the past months come under attack from Islamic State militants.

The oil-rich North African country has witnesses a drop in its oil output because of the chaos that has engulfed Libya, to less than a quarter of the country's 2011 production of 1.6 million barrels a day.

Press Association

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