Libya’s eastern administration has officially handed over power to a new executive that is meant to unify the war-torn country and steer it towards elections late this year.
The Government of National Unity (GNU), selected through a UN-supported process, is the latest internationally-backed attempt to end a decade of chaos in the North African nation and unite rival administrations.
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Led by interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the GNU replaces both the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the parallel eastern cabinet headquartered in the Cyrenaica region and not recognised by the international community.
Tuesday’s handover of power took place in Libya’s second city of Benghazi, the seat of the eastern administration.
Hussein Attiya al-Gotrani – one of Dbeibah’s two deputy prime ministers – and several ministers who had come from the capital, including Interior Minister Khaled Mazen, represented the GNU, according to reports.
“The period of division is over,” Gotrani was quoted by local media as saying. “The Government of National Unity is at the service of all Libyans, whatever their region.”
The handover came a week after GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj formally ceded power to the new unity administration.
Oil-rich Libya was plunged into turmoil when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The sometimes chaotic war between an array of forces has drawn in several outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
Al-Sarraj and the GNA had never won the support of the authorities in the east, which has been under the de facto control of forces loyal to renegade commander Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey has backed the GNA, while Haftar, who did officially take part in the recent political negotiations, has drawn on support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France and Russia.
Dbeibah, 61, was sworn in last week after Parliament approved his cabinet in a move hailed by key leaders and foreign powers as “historic”.
The interim executive faces daunting challenges to unify the country’s institutions and prepare for elections on December 24.
The move is seen as an important step to bring peace to the country. The lack of a proper handover among legislators in 2014 was a main factor in the split of Libya’s institutions.
The presence of thousands of foreign forces and mercenaries is another big challenge. The UN Security Council earlier this month called for countries with troops and mercenaries in Libya to withdraw them “without delay”.
The UN has estimated there are 20,000 foreign fighters in Libya, including Syrians, Turkish, Sudanese and Russians brought to the country by the rival sides.