Libya’s interim PM-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has called for the departure of some 20,000 foreign fighters present in the country as he made the case for his proposed Cabinet lineup at parliamentary talks.
“The mercenaries are a stab in our back – they must leave,” interim premier Dbeibah told Parliament on Tuesday, adding that he would coordinate with the United Nations and the fighters’ countries of origin to arrange for their withdrawal.
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“Our sovereignty is violated by their presence.”
Libya, a major oil producer, has been mired in conflict since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The sometimes chaotic war has drawn in several outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
Since 2015, Libya has been divided between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and its House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk, allied to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Dbeibah’s comments came during the second day of a parliamentary debate on his proposal for a new interim government, where he denounced a “fierce campaign” carried out by “those who want to destroy our country, who want to occupy it”.
A UN-supervised process aims to unite the country after an October ceasefire between the two rival administrations.
Last week, an advance team of a UN observer mission arrived in Libya tasked with monitoring the ceasefire and verifying the departure of the thousands of foreign fighters.
In December last year, the UN said about 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters were still in Libya and a January 23 deadline for their withdrawal passed without any sign of them pulling out.
Dbeibah, who submitted his proposed government to Parliament for approval last week, pleaded for lawmakers to vote in favour of it.
“We have no choice but to come to an agreement, for the future of our children,” Dbeibah said, to the applause of Parliament.
Dbeibah was selected in February at UN-sponsored talks, attended by a cross-section of Libyans, to steer the country towards December 24 elections.
The process has been marred by allegations of vote-buying, but the interim premier defended the composition of his proposed government.
“My first objective was to choose people with whom I would be able to work, no matter where they come from,” Dbeibah said.
The members of his government “must be able to work for all Libyans in all of Libya, not just for their region or their city”, he insisted.
More than 130 of a total of 188 lawmakers began meeting on Monday in Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, to debate the proposed cabinet. The Mediterranean port city lies halfway between Tripoli, where the western government is based, and the east, where Parliament has sat in recent years and which is home to the rival administration.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL, called the parliament’s meeting “historic” and praised the convening of a “reunified session after many years of divisions and paralysis”.
Dbeibah, 61, a billionaire businessman from the western town of Misrata, was selected alongside an interim three-member presidency council to head the new unity administration.
If approved, the interim government will face the daunting challenge of addressing the many grievances of Libyans, from a dire economic crisis and soaring unemployment to crippling inflation and wretched public services.
Lawmakers will continue debate for a third day on Wednesday to “finalise deliberations before voting”, politician Ismail al-Sharif told AFP news agency.
Dbeibah’s proposed government includes two deputy prime ministers, 26 ministers and six ministers of state, with the key foreign and justice portfolios handed to women, a first in Libya.
But the strategic post of defence remains deeply contested.
“All parties are fighting over this portfolio,” Dbeibah said.
The Misrata-native has until March 19 to win approval for his cabinet.