Efforts to form Libya unity government hit snag over defence portfolio

Friday 05/02/2016
Divisive figure

TRIPOLI - Efforts to hammer out a Libyan unity government are stumbling over the defence portfolio, an official said Wednesday, as the internationally recognised parliament set a new deadline for a line-up.

Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with two rival administrations and armed groups fighting for control of the oil-rich country.

A militia alliance including Islamists overran Tripoli in August 2014, establishing its own government and parliament and causing the recognised administration to flee to the country's remote east.

Last month the recognised parliament rejected a 32-member unity government announced as part of a UN-brokered deal, saying it was too large and setting a 10-day deadline for a smaller cabinet.

On Monday, prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj said a UN-backed Presidential Council tasked with forming the unity government needed an extra week to reach agreement on a new cabinet list.

The recognised parliament, which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, announced Wednesday on its website that it had voted to give the council "until Sunday to form a unity government".

The council is made up of nine members from Libya's rival factions and headed by Sarraj, a businessman, have been meeting in Morocco to try and come up with a government, according to UN envoy Martin Kobler.

"Never seen the presidential council so committed in day/night (meetings) to present a good list of the new unity (government)," he tweeted on Wednesday.

But a presidential council source said that there is no consensus on who will head the defence ministry.

"The identity of the future defence minister is delaying the formation of the government," said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Initially the post had been given to Colonel Al-Mahdi al-Barghati, a prominent military figure who is close to Libya's internationally recognised administration.

But his nomination was rejected by Ali al-Gatrani, a council member who favours controversial army chief General Khalifa Haftar -- a rival of Barghati -- according to the source.

"Council members have been trying in vain for days to find consensus on someone who would be acceptable to all parties," said the source, adding the post could be kept vacant to ensure consensus.