A renegade Libyan general has ordered troops to advance on capital city Tripoli, the base of the country’s United Nations-backed government, the Government of National Accord.
Eight years after the fall of strongman leader Moammar Gadhafi, the North African country is mired in violence and split into rival administrations. The administration of General Khalifa Haftar, in eastern Libya, is often at odds with the Western-backed government based in Tripoli.
Also in the mix are multiple tribes competing for control of Libya’s dwindling oil wealth, as well as militant groups, including ISIS, scattered across the vast country.
“To our army stationed on the border of Tripoli today, we continue the march of struggle and response to the appeal of our people in the capital as we promised them,” said Haftar, who heads the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), in an audio recording posted on his media office’s Facebook account.
He added that “safety of our foreign guests and our institutions” should be ensured.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for restraint on Thursday from Tripoli, where he is currently in talks to push for an international peace deal. “There is no military solution. Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems. I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country,” Guterres wrote on Twitter.
Haftar’s call comes one day after he reportedly told his forces to deploy to western parts of the country: He instructed fighters to “cleanse it of the remaining terrorist groups” on Wednesday, according to his media office’s Facebook account.
That day, the LNA released a video showing pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns lined along a road, which claimed that forces had already started to mobilize toward western Libya.
Major General Ahmad al-Mesmari, spokesman for Haftar’s forces, said in a televised statement that the LNA was already in control of Gharyan, a town about 100 km (60 miles) south of the capital.
Earlier this week, the Government of National Accord had issued a statement saying it was on “general alert.”