Eastern Libya’s foreign minister said on Wednesday his government, parallel to the internationally recognised administration in Tripoli, could not force eastern tribesmen to lift an oil blockade that he said was a “popular decision”.
Abdulhadi Lahweej also reiterated his side, led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, would not participate in political talks set to begin in Geneva on Wednesday, saying there was no agreement with the United Nations mission on the composition of their delegation.
“We cannot use our power to lift the [oil] blockade,” Lahweej told journalists in Geneva, alleging the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli was using revenues from oil to pay for thousands of mercenaries he said came from Syria to help them.
“The participation [in the Geneva talks] for the moment is suspended,” he added.
The UN had planned to bring together legislators from both sides of Libya’s conflict on Wednesday to end the fighting over Tripoli as part of a dialogue encompassing military, political and economic strands.
In a sign of the acrimony between the two sides, Lahweej took aim several times at Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, heading the GNA, who earlier this week called Haftar a “war criminal” at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“The war criminal is the one who accepts mercenaries to kill people and accepts pilots who kills civilians,” Lahweej said of the internationally recognised Libyan prime minister.
Turkey provides military support to the GNA.
Since April, Tripoli has been under an assault by forces loyal to Haftar, who is aligned with a rival administration based in the country’s east and backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia.
Russia on Wednesday accused Turkey of helping foreign fighters cross into Libya, the Interfax news agency reported, quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.
Russia did not see evidence that Libya’s warring factions were prepared to implement military and political decisions reached at a conference in Berlin in January, Bogdanov added.
He said a truce agreed on January 12 was generally being observed, but added there was no sign either side supported what he called “the basic principles” for resolving the crisis.