Libyan eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar said on Monday he had “a popular mandate” to govern the country, declaring a key political deal was over as he vowed to press his assault to seize the capital, Tripoli.
The 76-year-old leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) dismissed the 2015 United Nations-brokered agreement to unite the country as “a thing of the past”. In a televised address, he also pledged to create a new government.
The announcement came two weeks after forces loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli expelled Haftar’s troops from several key cities in the country’s west.
World powers have reacted with alarm to Haftar’s latest announcement, fearful that the move could see the country, already mired in conflict since the 2011 overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, plunge into further chaos.
Libya’s UN-recognised government accused Haftar of seeking to stage a new coup.
“It’s a farce and the latest in a long series of coups d’etat,” the GNA said in a statement on Tuesday. “What the war criminal Haftar said was a coup on the democratic path, not new but a continuation of his failed coups and to cover up his repeated defeats.”
It said that Haftar “turned his back on the parallel political institutions that backed him and designated him” as head of the army.
The Tripoli-based government urged Libyans to join “a comprehensive dialogue and continue in the democratic path to reach a comprehensive and permanent solution based on ballot boxes”.
Peter Stano, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, dismissed Haftar’s move as unacceptable, stressing that it would never provide a sustainable solution to the country’s crisis.
“Any attempt to push forward a unilateral solution, even more by force, will never provide a sustainable solution for the country. Such attempts can’t be accepted,” Stano said, adding that the 2015 Skhirat agreement signed under UN auspices “remains the viable framework for a political solution in Libya until amendments or replacements are found”.
The agreement, signed in Morocco following the emergence of two centres of power, set up the GNA in Tripoli to manage the transition process in Libya while acknowledging the Tobruk-based House of Representatives as the country’s official legislature.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday that his country rejected the GNA’s refusal to engage with Haftar as well as the latter’s unilateral move to usurp power.
“We did not support the recent statement by [GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj] Sarraj, who refused to talk to Marshal Haftar, and we do not support the statement that now Marshal Haftar will decide unilaterally the way for the Libyan people to live,” said Lavrov.
“Neither of these factors helps to find a stable compromise, without which it is impossible to get out of this crisis.”
Berlin also expressed concern about Haftar’s termination of the power-sharing agreement.
“In the German government’s view, the conflict in Libya cannot be solved militarily and not through unilateral declarations either, but only through a political process with the participation of all regions and ethnic groups,” a Foreign Ministry source, speaking on condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying by dpa news agency on Tuesday.
“For this, a ceasefire is first of all urgently needed.”
Washington regretted Haftar’s “unilateral declaration”, calling for dialogue between the two sides and a “humanitarian” truce in light of the new coronavirus.
“The United States regrets … commander Haftar’s suggestion that changes to Libya’s political structure can be imposed by unilateral declaration,” a statement on its embassy’s Twitter account said.
“As civilians continue to suffer during the holy month of Ramadan and the COVID-19 pandemic threatens more lives, we urge the LNA to join the Government of National Accord in declaring an immediate humanitarian cessation of hostilities.”