Libyan government regains control of western Libya

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FOR ABOVE one year on UN-supported by the government of national accord (GNA) in Libya had been besieged by the forces of Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general. Then all of a sudden it wasn’t. On June 3, militias aligned with the GNA pushed the so-called Libyan National Army of General Haftar (LNA) from Tripoli International Airport. The next day, they retook Tarhouna, a town 90 km to the south-east (see map). On June 7, the Sharara oil fields were back in the GNA‘s hands — and pumping for the first time since January. The militias are now fighting the LNA in Sirte, the gateway to the heart of General Haftar to the east. Fight “for the whole homeland,” says Fayez al-Serraj, the GNAthe prime minister of.

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Mr. Serraj, however, does not call for the shots. Attracted by Africa’s largest oil reserves and more than 1,700 km of Mediterranean coastline, foreign armies have gathered in Libya. A surge of support from Turkey from December saved Serraj. It now determines to what extent the GNA advances. Russia, Egypt and United Arab Emirates (United Arab Emirates) have long supported the LNA and try to consolidate their hold on the east. After six years of civil war, the division of Libya into an area of ​​Turkish influence in the west and a Russian area in the east, i.e. a de facto partition, appears more and more likely. . “We are heading towards a frozen conflict,” said a diplomat in Tripoli.

Russia and Turkey also support opposing camps in Syria, where they have learned to coordinate their operations in order to avoid a big escalation. The risk is greater in Libya, at least for now. The Turks have frigates off the coast, warplanes and drones in the sky, and mercenaries on the ground. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants GNA to pierce the oil fields beyond Sirte and take Jufra air base. He believes it would give Mr. Serraj a financial boost and a strategic buffer against General Haftar and other predators in the East. But last month, Russia moved 14 fighter jets to Jufra. Hundreds of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private security company linked to the Kremlin, are supporting General Haftar. Egypt moved a column of tanks to (and, some say, across) its western border. He and the United Arab Emirates see the war as a struggle against Islamism.

Eastern Libyans are worried. “We have had enough of Turkish colonialism,” says Fawzia al-Furjani, a businesswoman from Benghazi, referring to centuries of Ottoman rule. But a growing number of people are also wondering if General Haftar, who in April proclaimed himself Libya’s military leader, can be their savior. His defeat in Tripoli, at the cost of hundreds of lives, has rekindled memories of the disastrous campaign he waged against Chad in the 1980s.

The great eastern tribes keep their distance from him. The elders of the southern tribes have declared themselves for the GNA. We are talking about a challenge to General Haftar. Even his foreign supporters seem to tire of his bragging rights. During the launch of a peace initiative in Cairo on June 6, General Haftar shared the stage with Aguila Saleh, a less belligerent politician from the east. Last month, Saleh declared himself Commander-in-Chief of the LNA.

Despite the GNA, the situation in the west is also unstable. Mr. Serraj says he wants to “build a civil, democratic and modern state”, but the militias fighting for him are divided by tribe, city and ideology. The threat of General Haftar (no support for GNA) was the glue that held them together. Among them, the jihadists want to push to Benghazi, their homeland before General Haftar expels them in 2017. The militias of Misrata, the most powerful force in the west, want to dominate the region. The rulers of other towns, like Zintan, would prefer to carve out their own fiefdoms in the lands they have captured. Each has a separate line with Turkish commanders on the ground and foreign powers abroad. Mr Serraj may no longer be under siege, but his reign does not extend far beyond his glass office building in Tripoli. â– 

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the title “A Warlord Retires”


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