CAIRO (AP) — Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter on Monday declared a landmark United Nations-brokered agreement to unite the country “a thing of the past,” and pledged his authorities would move toward creating a new government.
Hifter’s televised statement threatens to deepen the schism between east and west Libya and further complicate UN efforts to broker a political settlement to the civil war.
“The political agreement destroyed the country,” he said. “We will work to create the conditions for building permanent civic institutions.”
Hifter, commander of Libya’s east-based forces laying siege to the capital of Tripoli, controls most of eastern and southern Libya. The besieged administration in Tripoli rules just a corner of the country’s west. Both sides are supported by a network of fractious militias and foreign powers.
While Hifter has not yet dissolved any state institutions, such as the eastern-based House of Representatives, he said his armed forces “accept the people’s mandate to run the country.”
The US Embassy in Libya said it “regrets” Hifter’s unilateral proposal to alter Libya’s political structure and urged him to engage in “serious dialogue” about the country’s next steps.
In a speech last week, Hifter asked Libyans to hold demonstrations and give him a mandate to rule. Despite a curfew imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, crowds thronged the streets of Benghazi and chanted slogans against the rival Tripoli administration.
The UN set up the Tripoli-based government, known as the Government of National Accord, in 2015 following the emergence of two rival centers of government — one allied with Hifter in the eastern city of Tobruk and one in Tripoli.
The agreement, frequently condemned by Hifter and his supporters, bestows international legitimacy on a western government under the leadership of technocrat Fayez Sarraj.
It also acknowledges the House of Representatives based in Tobruk as the country’s official legislature and grants consultative powers to the previous parliament based in Tripoli. Both bodies are largely powerless.
The agreement has so far failed to bring unity or stability to the divided country. The abrupt resignation of UN envoy Ghassan Salame earlier this year cast further doubt on the fate of Libya’s hamstrung political process.
Meanwhile, Hifter has ratcheted up his military campaign to seize Tripoli. Both sides have ignored calls by the UN and the West for a cease-fire so authorities can direct resources to the coronavirus pandemic.
In his speech, Hifter said his forces would continue their offensive “until the end.”
Image: Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter joins a meeting with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and other officials in Athens, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The commander of anti-government forces in war-torn Libya has begun meetings in Athens in a bid to counter Turkey’s support for his opponents. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)