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Is Libya's Khalifa Haftar provoking a full-blown conflict in Tripoli?

  • Ferhat Polat
  • 28 Mar 2019

Haftar's forces have given a strong indication that they might march on Tripoli. The international community must take diplomatic action to prevent armed conflict.

Sirte forces, which are allied to the UN-backed government in Tripoli, deploy in Sirte, Libya March 12, 2019. Pictures taken March 12, 2019. ( Reuters )

Today Libya is fragmented and polarised, mired in instability and insecurity. In many respects, it is considered to be a failed state, lacking a unified, representative and legitimate government, and unable to exercise nationwide authority or hold a monopoly over the use of force. The struggle for control of Libya’s oil resources is a significant driver in the ongoing conflict.

Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), has indicated his intention to capture Tripoli, the capital that hosts the internationally-recognised legitimate government of Libya, namely the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar enjoys political and logistical support from Egypt, UAE, France, Russia and others. It is believed that such support stems from the economic fruits of the oil-rich Eastern Libya. It is with such international backing that Haftar has dominated the eastern part of the country and ventured recently to establish a foothold in the region of Sebha. Haftar has consistently refused to recognise the legitimacy of the GNA.

In September 2017, on the sidelines of a gathering of global leaders at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Ghassan Salame, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Libya, presented his action plan to end the ongoing civil war. 

The first step involved convening political actors from Libya’s major factions, specifically the eastern-based HoR and the western-based, internationally backed GNA, to discuss the terms of the LPA.

The political agreement, also known as the Skhirat agreement (LPA), was signed in December 2015. A wide range of Libyan representatives, including members of the HoR and GNC, as well as prominent public figures from Libyan political parties and civil society, attended the signing. The resulting political agreement led to the establishment of a single Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al- Sarraj.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has thrown its support behind the agreement and reiterated its call for parties to work in a spirit of compromise, and engage in an inclusive political process. The UNSC underscored the importance of the organisations in facilitating a Libyan-led political solution to the country’s critical challenges. The plan could culminate in the Libyans voting on a constitution via a referendum and eventually electing a president as well as parliament.

However, none of the necessary steps has been implemented successfully so far. For instance, the Tobruk and Al Bayda authorities, which are under the control of Haftar, have not recognised the GNA. 

Although the LPA was widely endorsed by the international community, a regional bloc led by the UAE and Egypt is playing an active role in preventing the adoption of the LPA.

The Libyan Government, supported by the UN, must tailor a national plan for peace that will allow all social, cultural and political actors to work together in solving their accumulated grievances. The role of Khalifa Haftar, which has yet to be resolved, remains the principal obstacle in unifying the country.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) began an offensive in the south in January 2019 to take control of El Sharara and El Feel oilfields that were under the authority of Tripoli. It is believed that Haftar is now in control of more than 1 million barrels of production a day; a capacity that allows him to gain a significant source of income as well as commanding militia groups. 

Libya’s fragmentation at the political and security level has effectively invited open competition for the country’s energy resources in several ways.

Furthermore, Haftar and his forces have bypassed the Tripoli-based National Oil Company (NOC), which is loyal to the UN-backed government GNA. The NOC is the only legitimate organisation that can sell Libyan oil on global markets. 

However, Haftar has violated UN sanctions countless times. He circumvented the NOC to export oil directly even though he cannot legally export oil because of the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which reserves that right for the NOC.

The illegal export of Libyan oil only harms the long-term prospects of the Libyan oil sector as it erodes any confidence from international investors and business partners.

Continued support for Haftar is whetting his appetite to control more territory. Consequently, it prevents the GNA from imposing its authority across the country. Therefore, international and regional powers have a responsibility to reach a consensus and pressure Haftar to bring peace and stability to the country.

It is widely believed that Haftar wants to control Libya as a whole. He has continuously refused to abide by peace proposals and initiatives. Occasionally high-level meetings take place, like when Haftar and Sarraj met earlier this month to discuss a power-sharing deal in Libya.

However, these meetings seem to serve Haftar's agenda of grabbing territory more than anything else. Some commentators argue that the UAE and Egypt have convinced Sarraj to accept Haftar as the country’s overall military commander. 

If Haftar is not recognised as such, he threatens to march on Tripoli and consequently could degenerate the situation in the country to a full-blown civil war.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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