Libya’s Haftar still supports elections but sees others stalling
BENGHAZI - Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, a key figure in the future of the troubled North African country, said he still supported plans for national elections in December but claimed others were not fulfilling their part for the vote to take place.
His downbeat comments add to doubts that a French plan, backed by the United Nations, for elections aimed at ending seven years of conflict in Libya will go ahead.
Haftar, 75, is a dominant figure in the east where his Libyan National Army (LNA) last year seized the second-largest city of Benghazi by expelling Islamist and other fighters.
In written comments to questions submitted by Reuters, Haftar refused to say whether he would run in presidential elections as expected, saying: “Which elections are you talking about? When they are announced and the door opened to run for them, you will know the answer.”
Haftar is aligned with a government based in the east and is the main rival of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj who leads a UN-brokered transitional government in Tripoli.
In May, Haftar, Sarraj and the leaders of rival parliamentary assemblies agreed verbally under French mediation to create a framework for elections. However, weeks of clashes between rival factions in Tripoli, some of which are linked to the UN-backed government, have shown the difficulties of organising a vote in a country in chaos.
“The General Command (of the LNA) has not backed down on what it has pledged (regarding elections) and we are ready to play our part in securing elections on the agreed date,” Haftar said in the written response provided by his office.
“But the rest of the parties have breached their commitments… and have not taken any steps to fulfil their role,” he added.
He said the House of Representatives (HoR) failed to agree on a constitutional framework by mid-September as planned. The chamber is based in eastern territory controlled by the LNA but is badly divided.
For weeks, the HoR postponed sessions with only a few lawmakers showing up. Some complained about intimidation and violence — one deputy was recently shot in a leg.
“We have now exceeded this date (for the establishment of a constitutional framework, September 16) without any action and without any justification,” Haftar said.
Previous attempts at a peace deal have been scuttled by divisions among rival groups and its foreign backers.
Haftar enjoys the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which are keen on curbing Islamists. He is popular with those tired of chaos but is seen by others, especially in western Libya, as divisive.
Libya slid into lawlessness after the NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi.
Haftar began a campaign in May 2014 in Benghazi that lasted three years, styling himself as a military leader capable of restoring order. He has the official title of “field-marshal.”
Critics say he wants to resurrect Qaddafi’s police state, accusations he denied.
Haftar said the situation in Tripoli is dangerous despite UN attempts to establish a truce between armed groups. The LNA has talked about expanding to Tripoli but that might entail Haftar having to work with other armed groups in western Libya.