Libyan National Army accuses Qatar of stoking conflict

Libya’s eastern army says Qatar has been deploying forces in the country and financing radical groups, hindering the North African country's transition to democracy.

Screengrab taken from the LNA spokesperson's Twitter account
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Libya’s eastern army has accused Qatar of deploying forces in the country and financing radical groups over several years, hindering its transition to democracy.

Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Colonel Ahmed Al Mismari presented documents and videos at a press conference in eastern Libya late on Wednesday which he said confirmed Qatari deployments in Libya and its support for radical forces opposed to the LNA.

The claim follows a declaration on Monday by the Al Bayda-based interim government, which supervises the LNA and is opposed to the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, that it was formally breaking diplomatic relations with Qatar, without citing a reason.

The announcement came after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt said they were breaking off ties with Qatar over its support for “terrorist groups aiming to destabilise the region”.

The documents presented by Col Al Mismari include a letter he said was from Mohammed Hamad Al Hajri, acting charge d’affaires at the Qatar Embassy in Libya, which the colonel said proved Qatar has deployed units in the country.

The letter, which appeared to be written on headed notepaper with an official Qatari embassy crest, referred to an incident in 2012 when three Qatari men — supposedly in Libya on a hunting trip — were stopped at a checkpoint and then confined to their hotel. The letter says the Qatari embassy provided consular assistance and subsequently the under-secretary at the Libyan ministry for foreign affairs apologised to the Qatari ambassador for the “misunderstanding.”

On Thursday, Col Al Mismari told the Libyan news site Al Awsat that the House of Representatives (HOR), the eastern parliament that supervises the LNA and the government in Al Bayda, should annul contracts with oil companies associated with Qatar. He said Qatar had “destroyed the Arab region and there is no hope for reconciliation”.

Col Al Mismari said the documents showed the involvement of prominent Qataris in fuelling disputes in Libya, and the deployment of Qatar’s military in attempts by its allied forces to take over several locations, including the Mitiga airport in Tripoli’s city centre and the western coastal town of Misurata.

Qatar has not commended on the LNA allegations, but on March 8 it denied allegations by Libyan parliamentarians that it was supporting radical forces fighting the LNA for control of strategic oil ports Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. Qatar news agency quoted a source at its foreign affairs ministry saying at the time: “The statement is completely baseless and the allegations are misleading and contradict Qatar’s policy towards the brotherly Libyan state.”

The LNA spokesman also accused Qatar-backed Libyan radical militias of being behind an attempt to assassinate LNA commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and also a series of assassinations of prominent leaders, including Abdel Fattah Younes, LNA chief of staff during the 2011 evolution, who was murdered in Benghazi in July that year.

He also presented videos showing what he said were extremists supported by Qatar who held prominent positions in Libya, including the former mayor of Tripoli and radical fighter Mahdi Al Harati.

Mr Al Harati, a former Arab-language teacher in Ireland, led the so-called Tripoli Brigade, one of the rebel forces that ousted Libya’s former leader Muammar Qaddafi in the 2011 revolution.

The following year he set up a rebel brigade in Syria to battle the forces of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, leaving six months later to return to Tripoli where he was elected mayor in 2014.

The UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts, set up to monitor the UN arms embargo on Libya, wrote in its annual report in March 2013: “During its first mandate (2011-12), the Panel was informed by the Libyan opposition military authorities and confidential sources that Qatar was providing military material to the revolutionary forces through the organisation of a large number of flights and the deliveries of a range of arms and ammunition”.

Qatar replied to the allegation, saying it had deployed troops in Libya to protect civilians during the revolution, but denied that any weapons had intentionally found their way to rebels.

In a January 2013 letter to the Panel of Experts, the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar wrote that Qatar had deployed troops during the 2011 revolution to protect civilians under the terms of UN resolutions of that year. “Thus it dispatched a limited number of military personnel to Libya to provide military consultation to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys destined for them. It supplied those Qatari military personnel with limited arms and ammunition for the purpose of self defence.”

In the same letter, published by the Panel in its 2013 report, Qatar’s Permanent Mission said: “The State of Qatar categorically denies the information reported by some media that it supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition. If some ammunition found its way to some Libyan revolutionaries, despite measures taken to prevent this from happening, then this could only be explained by the conditions of fierce fighting.”

Libyan militias that the LNA accuses Qatar of financing have suffered a series of defeats on the battlefield in recent weeks. On March 10, LNA forces ejected radical militias from two key oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, and in May the army captured two key southern airbases and the central base of Jufra from militias. The LNA has also captured most of the key eastern city of Benghazi from radicals, including ISIL, pushing them back into two coastal enclaves.