Op-Ed: Libyan prime minister stopped from flying to Malta

Posted Sep 16, 2015 by Ken Hanly
The Prime Minister of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government, Abdullah al-Thinni, was prevented by security officials from departing on a flight to Malta for a meeting.
The prime minister of Libya's internationally recognised parliament  Abdullah al-Thani  picture...
The prime minister of Libya's internationally recognised parliament, Abdullah al-Thani, pictured during a press conference in Tripoli, in June 2014
Mahmud Turkia, AFP/File
The pro-HoR Libya Herald caims sources at the Labraq international airport near Bayda told them that the security personnel were acting on orders from top military figures. The Herald sees this as a reference to General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army — the military forces of the HoR, al-Thinni's own government. An official in Malta confirmed al-Thinni was to fly there for a meeting. The Herald notes al-Thinni had previously been prevented from boarding a plane. In July last year he was prevented from flying out of Mitiga airport but this is in the area controlled by the rival Tripoli-based GNC government. The militia there are hostile to al-Thinni and his government. This is hardly comparable since in this case he is being prevented from flying by his own security forces.
The pro-GNC publication Libya Observer gives more details. The Observer refers to the security personnel as "gunmen" connected to Khalifa Haftar militias and claims there were reports of gunfire between Al-Thinni's guards and the militia members. After the clash, al-Thinni was said to have been transported to a safe place, presumably by his guards. Al-Thinni was scheduled to attend an oil conference in Malta. The HoR government has set up its own rival National Oil Company(NOC) in the east and is trying to lure foreign oil buyers to bypass the neutral NOC located in Tripoli. So far foreign buyers have been wary of bypassing the established NOC. The UN had warned the HoR not to further complicate the situation by setting up its own oil company but the HoR paid no attention.
While the reason why al-Thinni was prevented from making the trip is not clear, the Observer speculates that the militia intended to arrest al-Thinni for dismissing the deputy for security affairs Al-Mihdi Allabad, who had maintained good relations with Haftar militias. Theoretically Haftar's "militias" are now just part of the Libyan National Army but Haftar maintains control over them and the units appear loyal to him rather than the HoR government.
A Maltese paper also reported on the incident and indicated that Al-Thinni would not be attending a scheduled meeting in Malta. As well as referencing some of the Libya Herald account and its mentioning of General Haftar, the paper also claims a source reported gunfire was heard during a standoff between an "armed group" and airport security officers. The conference was organized by the HoR-created National Oil Corporation.
The paper also says sources told it that the dispute between Al-Thinni and Haftar was over the HoR failure to appoint a defence minister. Perhaps Khalifa had someone in mind but al-Thinni did not want to appoint anyone when he is,or rather was, in the process of signing on to a new Government of National Accord(GNA) promoted by the UN. However, the HoR has just recently rejected the latest version of the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA) that incorporates some of the demands of the GNC, and called its negotiators back to Tobruk for consultations.
There appears to be a serious breach between the Al-Thinni government and Haftar. Haftar had rejected the earlier LPA that the HoR had accepted. He also refuses to engage in negotiations with the militia of the Tripoli government, Libya Dawn and calls them terrorists. So recalcitrant has he been that he is named by the EU as one of several people to be subject to sanctions for blocking the peace process. Even within the HoR establishment he has had several other disputes including recent conflict with Ibrahim Jathran or Jodran, the commander of the militias that guard the eastern oil ports. A Jathran convoy was attacked on Haftar's command.The situation in eastern Libya appears increasingly unstable with a possible military coup in the offing rather than any signing of the LPA.