Libyan general criticises UN envoy for ‘meddling’ after oil port victories

Khalifa Haftar, head of the Tobruk-based administration's forces, dismisses Martin Kobler's offer to mediate with the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord guard a lookout point in the coastal city of Sirte September 19, 2016 during military operation to clear ISIL militants from the city. Mahmud Turkia / AFP
Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord guard a lookout point in the coastal city of Sirte September 19, 2016 during military operation to clear ISIL militants from the city. Mahmud Turkia / AFP

Paris // Libya’s powerful General Khalifa Haftar, who answers to the parliament based in the country’s east, has accused the UN envoy to the divided country of “meddling” in Libyan affairs.

Gen Haftar, who’s forces captured four key central oil ports last week from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), criticised Martin Kobler’s offer to mediate a ceasefire in a worsening civil war.

Gen Haftar told Egypt’s state-run daily Al Ahram that “Kobler is meddling in very sensitive issues” after he offered to mediate a truce between the GNA and the House of Representatives parliament in Tobruk, whose forces the general commands.

Gen Haftar was promoted by the parliament to the rank of field marshall last week in recognition for his success in capturing the ports.

He told the Egyptian daily that Tripoli, where the GNA is based, had been “hijacked” by armed gangs.

The interview was published on Monday after the UN diplomat took to Twitter to offer himself as a broker in peace talks after a week of fighting around the oil ports.

“It’s up to the Libyans to find a peaceful solution,” Mr Kobler tweeted. “I stand ready to help and mediate.”

Some diplomats fear Libya is headed for all-out civil war after Gen Haftar’s Libya National Army captured the oil ports of Brega, El Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina between September 11 and September 13, pushing out a militia, the Petroleum Facilities Guard, which is aligned to the GNA.

On Sunday the Petroleum Facilities Guard launched a fierce counter-attack, sending fighters to attack Ras Lanuf and El Sidra. Militia units entered the town of Ras Lanuf adjacent to the refinery but were forced back by air strikes, with local media reporting an oil storage tank at El Sidra was set alight. Gen Haftar’s units then advanced 25km east, capturing one of the militia’s bases at the town of Bin Jawad.

The fighting halted the loading of a tanker, Seadelta, which had docked at Ras Lanuf.

Despite the fighting, the chairman of Libya’s National Oil Company insisted the ports were ready for business after Gen Haftar declared his troops would support operations resuming for the first time since fighting closed the ports in December 2014.

“The events in the Oil Crescent must have made it clear to everybody that the use of blockade as a tactic in our politics is a dead end,” Mustafa Sanallah was quoted as saying on the oil company’s website on Monday. “It is time to let Libya’s oil flow freely and get Libya back on its feet.”

However, Gen Haftar’s capture of the oil ports has shifted the balance of power from the GNA in the west back towards the House of Representatives in the east, which appears in no mood to compromise.

In a bid to bring the two governments together, Mr Kobler embarked on a round of hurried mediation, meeting the Arab League chief, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, for talks in Cairo at the weekend, which the UN envoy described as “long, constructive and friendly”.

However, Gen Haftar has refused several invitations to meet Mr Kobler, according to the diplomat, and his meeting with the House of Representatives president Agila Saleh in Cairo also produced no breakthrough.

Mr Kobler said his talks with Mr Saleh were an “open and frank exchange of views”, but relations between Mr Saleh and the UN are not warm.

Mr Kobler insists that, under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 2259, passed on December 23 last year, the House of Representatives must accept the GNA as Libya’s “legitimate” government, but Mr Saleh has steadfastly refused to accept it.

Many Tobruk politicians point out that while parliament was voted into office, in internationally approved elections in June 2014, the GNA was created by a commission, the Libya Dialogue, and has not submitted itself to approval by the Libyan electorate, raising questions about its right to govern.

Mr Kobler’s position as the key supporter and architect of the GNA may rule him out as a mediator between the GNA and the House of Representatives, not least because with the capture of the oil ports, the eastern parliament, which already controls the oil crescent that is home to two-thirds of Libya’s oil reserves, now dominates the country’s petroleum industry.

Yet without mediation, the conflict between the two governments, centred on the oilfields and ports, seems likely to intensify. Already fighting between militias, and attacks earlier this year by ISIL, have wrecked more than 17 oil storage tanks. More fighting might add to the carnage, presenting whichever side finally triumphs with a pyrrhic victory.

Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM


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