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article imageOp-Ed: Libyan unity government foreign minister's claim creates trouble

By Ken Hanly     May 10, 2017 in Politics
At a press conference in Algiers, Mohammed Siyala the foreign affairs minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord issued a controversial statement about Marshal Khalifa Haftar commander of the armed forces of the rival eastern government.
Siyala said that Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army(LNA) as he calls the armed forces of the House of Representatives' government, would also be head of the army of a unified Libya if he recognized the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). Siyala said that Haftar was "the commander in chief of the Libyan Army" but later qualified that by adding that before becoming such he must recognize the GNA as the sole authority, not the government of the HoR. Siyala was an official in the Gadaffi government.
However, the present Libya Political Agreement (LPA), section 8, makes the Presidential Council(PC) of the GNA not Haftar commander in chief of the Libyan Army. Haftar has been a key figure in rejecting the authority of the GNA and has consolidated power in eastern LIbya. He not only controls the oil fields but has replaced many local authorities by military officials. The head of the PC, Faiez Serraj, and Haftar met in Dubai in the UAE last week. The meeting has been described by many as positive. However there was no joint statement made after the meetings and separate statements with different contents were issued by each side eventually. The statements are described in a recent Libya Observer article: Haftar's statement concentrated on the two parties' agreement on enabling the military institution in its war on terrorism, and making sure the ban on weapons purchase by what he called the Libyan army is lifted. Whereas, Al-Sirraj's statement hardly mentioned anything about lifting the arms ban or enabling the military institution, but rather it was centered on finding a comprehensive strategy to develop and build the Libyan army, reaffirming that it should be under the command of a civilian authority. Unlike Serraj's statement, Haftar's did not even mention the February 17th revolution that overthrew Gaddafi and focused mainly on enabling and supporting the military. The two did agree on alleviating the current economic situation, fighting terrorism, and the need to deescalate the military tensions in southern Libya. However, clashes went on between the two groups in the south even while the talks were on. There was no joint statement outlining a way forward to unify the two sides. There are to be further talks this week but it remains to be seen what if any final agreement is reached. Nothing had been signed.
Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed in Tripoli said that that the statement by the minister was met with a wave of criticism: "Many people are angry and are wondering how a general whose forces have committed atrocities in Benghazi, whose aircrafts have been raiding ports and airports all over Libya, can be called by the UN-backed GNA as the commander and chief of the Libyan army.There is a contradiction here because Haftar himself does not recognise the UN-backed government." Siyala did qualify his statement by indicating that Haftar must first recognize the authority of the GNA. However, many people in the west and many within the GNA are vehemently opposed to Haftar becoming commander in chief of the armed forces of a unified government. Some oppose him having any role in a unified government and some consider him a war criminal. Haftar has never been in favor of the GNA and he has allies in the HoR including the head Ageelah who have been instrumental in seeing to it that the HoR does not vote confidence in the GNA as required by the LPA. He launched Operation DIgnity in May of 2014 designed to fight against Islamist armed groups not just in Benghazi and Derna but also in the west where he includes many of the militia supporting the GNA as his enemies.
The Central Security Branch for North Tripoli known as the Nawasi Brigade reacted to Siyala's claims about Haftar with strong words: “We have followed with concern the remarks issued by the Minister-designate of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Sayala, in which he described Khalifa Haftar as a legitimate part of the solution, although he is not a part of the Libyan Political Agreement. Also disregarding Haftar’s attempts to undermine the security and stability of the capital Tripoli, the Libyan south and the massacres committed by his armed militias in the eastern region, which are blatant violations of human rights.” The group sent a letter to Sayala asking him to resign. It seems that the brigade is using the threat of force to enforce their demand for his resignation. According to a recent tweet: "Nawasy brigade entered ministry of foreign afairs." There are ongoing clashes in Tripoli involving other militia groups as well. Perhaps what is happening will be clearer in the morning.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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