The internationally recognized government in Libya's Tripoli once again faces a challenge from Gen. Khalifa Haftar who has been controlling the country's east. While the United Nations was about to launch a new round of peace talks between the two governments, the latest developments risked the relative stability and calmness.
A brief exchange of fire between Haftar's forces and the Tripoli government was reported by news agencies. Although no casualties were reported, the Libyan Presidential Council declared a military alert. Fayez al-Sarraj, who has been leading a third government in the country but allying with that in Tripoli, said that "instructions were issued and mobilization of all military and security forces was declared to thwart any attacks." Underlining that there would be no military solution to the recent developments, he said, "war does not bring anything to the country other than destruction and annoyance to the people."
Meanwhile, Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the U.N., said on his Twitter account that he was "deeply concerned by the military movement taking place in Libya and the risk of confrontation. 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." It was surprising that the military movements happened on the same day as Guterres' arrival to the country to mediate the peace talks.
Haftar's supporters had expressed that it was a waste of time to join the U.N.-mediated talks. Many believe that they should be advancing militarily along with mobilizing the tribes in the south. Haftar, who has been receiving support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt has been refraining from engaging in an all-out war as the international community, including the U.N. and NATO, would like the country's factions to come to an agreement. Rather, he has focused his efforts for expanding his zone of control to the south where he claims to be combating terror groups.
The rival militias are engaged in a struggle of influence for the capital and control of the major institutions and wealth of the country, which plunged into chaos since the ouster of former President Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and NATO's aerial operations. The militias in Tripoli claim to be loyal to the national unity government in Tripoli but the government's authority over the militias seems to be limited.
The clashes are worrying as the country aims to agree on a constitution through organizing a referendum as soon as possible. Following the referendum, elections are planned. These attempts aim to erase the division within the country and unify warring groups under a parliament and a government. The U.N. still hopes that Libya will hold its national elections this summer after the organization of a referendum based on a constitutional framework. The Libyan High National Electoral Commission said last month that it could hold a referendum in February if the U.N. backs and supports them.
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