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Op-Ed: General Haftar extending military power in eastern Libya

The first move was made some time ago in which the mayor of Benghazi, the largest city in eastern Libya, was replaced by Colonel Ahmed Larabi and the council was suspended. The appointment was made by the Chief of Staff of the House of Representatives(HoR) government, who is the military governor of the eastern region, Abdelrazig Al-Nathori, an ally of Haftar. Later Al-Nathori replaced the mayor of Ajdabiya, Salim Jodran, brother of the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG)Ibrahim. He was replaced by retired colonel Embarek Al-Manafi, as commander. Al-Manafi is a supporter of Haftar-s Operation Dignity launched in May of 2014 to clear Libya of Islamists, which includes the militia groups supporting the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The Jodran’s support the GNA while Haftar opposes it. Now Al-Nathori has acted a third time replacing the elected mayor of Al-Kufra by Colonel Saleh Al- Zarrouq.

Haftar is an admirer of the Egyptian president El-Sisi who in turn is supportive of Haftar. In a sign of the close relation between Egypt and the eastern HoR government Al-Nathori said:”Because we are engaged in internal battles and frontlines, we tasked the Egyptian army forces to protect the joint borders from the sea to the Libyan-Sudanese borders.” He said that the Libyan National Army (LNA) of the HoR headed by Haftar, and the Egyptian army are as one.

Nathori warned as well that LNA forces would bomb any vessel that was not authorized to load oil by the eastern-based National Oil Company of the HoR government. The eastern NOC is not internationally recognized. He also claimed that the PFG would be pushed out of the ports that they occupy. He also said: “The Presidential Guard announced by the Presidential Council of the UN-proposed government is one of the anti-bodies to the HoR’s army because Al-Sirraj has no right to form a military unit when he is illegitimate and his government failed to gain the vote of confidence from the HoR.” Faiez Serra is head of the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA and PM.

In another move, Al-Nathori appointed a five man committee to take over Libyan Airlines. The HoR government has also shut down a number of Benghazi radio stations.

A spokesperson for Operation Dignity, Ahmed Al-Mismari, directly threatened the UN-backed GNA:”Any institution or city under Sirraj militias would be regarded illegal and must be attacked. The formation of Presidential Guard, foreign intervention and Sirte battle are all illegal.”

Statements from representatives of Operation Dignity show that no opposition to the movement will be tolerated. Ali Amrouni, an Operation Dignity security chief said in effect that anyone against the operation should be killed: “Any one march in protest against Dignity Operation in any district will be shot dead. This is a death order, I gave my instructions to shoot any Dignity Operation protester.”

One would think that the UN and the GNA, as well as human rights organizations would have some comment to make on these threats. Instead, PM Serraj is apparently scheduled to appear before a meeting of the HoR tomorrow. No doubt he will plead with the members to vote confidence in the GNA. There is no sign as yet that the PC of the GNA has come up with a new cabinet as demanded by the HoR. Recent meetings of the PC had as few as 4 of 9 members present.

According to the terms of the Libya Political Agreement (LPA), the HoR is required to pass a vote of confidence in the GNA before its term officially starts. The HoR would then become the legislature of the GNA. However, the GNA has already been operating for some time but without a legislature. Recently a second vote of confidence failed to pass and the GNA was to have come up with a new cabinet within ten days that would then be voted on by the HoR.

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