Libya’s UN-recognized government has accused rival military commander Khalifa Haftar of seeking to stage another coup after claiming to have a “mandate” from the people to rule the country.
“This is a farce and the latest in a long series of coups,” the government of national accord (GNA), based in the capital, Tripoli, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“What 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,” he added.
The oil-rich North African nation has been in chaos since the fall and assassination of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with rival administrations in the east and west vying for power.
Haftar, who controls swaths of eastern Libya and in April last year launched an offensive to seize Tripoli, said on Monday his army had “accepted the will of the people and its mandate”. .
The head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), however, did not specify whether a parliament elected in 2014 and also based in the east of the country supported his decision.
Haftar claims his legitimacy with this parliament, which was forced to move its seat after violence tore Tripoli six years ago.
The GNA said Haftar had “turned his back on the parallel political institutions that supported him and appointed him” to head the army.
The Tripoli-based government urged Libyans to join “a comprehensive dialogue and continue on the democratic path to reach a comprehensive and permanent solution based on the ballot box”.
Both sides are supported by a network of grouchy militias and foreign powers. Turkey has sent armored drones, air defenses and, more recently, Syrian fighters, to support the beleaguered government in Tripoli.
Meanwhile, Russia has deployed hundreds of mercenaries to reinforce Haftarit’s aggression. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt also support Haftar.
Haftar’s forces suffer series of defeats in battle for Tripoli
Washington called for dialogue between the two parties and a “humanitarian” truce.
“The United States regrets … Commander Haftar’s suggestion that changes in Libya’s political structure may be imposed by unilateral declaration,” a statement on his 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” .
Commenting on the developments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Russia remains in contact with all participants in the Libyan process. We think there is no other way to solve the Libyan problem.
Earlier on Tuesday, the RIA news agency, citing a Foreign Ministry source, said Russia was surprised by Haftar’s takeover on Monday as he announced the “end” of a peace deal. 2015 negotiated by the UN which produced the GNA.
He had made similar remarks in 2017 and three years earlier had also appeared on television to say he was taking the reins of power in Libya.
Spikes of violence
Forces loyal to Haftar have attacked residential areas just outside the key stronghold of Tarhouna, southeast of the capital Tripoli, which Haftar’s forces have taken over.
Several dead as Libyan GNA forces approach Haftar’s stronghold
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said the escalation in violence was concentrated in areas near the town of Meslata, east of Tarhouna.
“Armed groups belonging to the GNA attacked Haftar’s forces in the vicinity of Tarhouna. In retaliation, Haftar’s forces attacked the town of Meslata with Grad rockets causing a state of panic and fear among civilians,” Abdelwahed said.
He added: “This situation is likely to worsen especially as Tarhouna is besieged by government forces who launched a campaign 10 days ago to retake the city. If they do, Haftar’s forces will have lost control of western Libya.
Haftar has been accused by his critics of seeking to impose a new military dictatorship in Libya.
Its offensive to seize Tripoli killed hundreds and displaced some 200,000 people.
The LNA, meanwhile, on Tuesday accused its GNA rivals of staging an attack in which a Turkish drone struck a convoy of catering trucks in the west of the country, killing at least five civilians.
Ahmed al-Mosmari, spokesman for Haftar’s forces, said the drone attack took place on Monday evening near Mizda district, 184 km (114 miles) south of Tripoli.
Militias loosely allied with the GNA denied attacking civilians, saying they instead targeted trucks carrying equipment and ammunition for eastern forces trying to take Tripoli.