Libya’s Haftar says he has ‘mandate from the people’ for military to take control

Head of Libyan National Army says UN roadmap for a unity government to end fighting is now 'thing of the past'

This image grab taken from a video published by the War Information Division of military strongman Khalifa Haftar's self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) on April 28, 2020 shows Haftar giving a speech, saying he had "a popular mandate" to govern the country, declaring a key 2015 political deal over and vowing to press his assault to seize Tripoli. In a speech on his Libya al-Hadath TV channel, Haftar said his self-styled Libyan "army" was "proud to be mandated with the historic task" of leading Libya. He did not make clear whether an elected parliament in the country's east, a signatory to the deal, backed his move -- or what its future role would be. Haftar has so far drawn his legitimacy from the administration based in the country's east, and last April his forces launched an assault to seize the capital Tripoli, in the west, from the Government of National Accord. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / LNA WAR INFORMATION DIVISION" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / LNA War Information Division / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / LNA WAR INFORMATION DIVISION" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The head of the eastern-based Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, on Monday said he had a "mandate from the people" to govern the country.

Field Marshal Haftar announced that a UN roadmap to form a unity government was "a thing of the past".

The move was described by Russia on Tuesday as "surprising".

Field Marshal Haftar did not make clear whether the elected House of Representatives parliament in the country's east backed his move or what its future role would be.

The country has been divided between the east under the House, and the west under the Government of National Accord, since 2014.

The LNA is fighting near the capital of Tripoli saying it seeks to unite the country and end the rule of militias that back the GNA.

In a speech on his Libya Al Hadath TV channel, Field Marshal Haftar said the LNA was "proud to be mandated with the historic task" of leading Libya.

"We announce our acceptance of the people's will and mandate and the end of the Skhirat Agreement," he said, referring to a 2015 UN-mediated deal that produced the unity government.

He said his forces would work "to put in place the necessary conditions to build the permanent institutions of a civil state".

On Tuesday, Russia said it believed a diplomatic process was the only way to resolve the conflict.

"We remain convinced that the only possible resolution in Libya can be through political and diplomatic communication between all parties, above all those in conflict," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"Russia remains in contact with all participants in the Libyan process. We believe that there are no other ways to resolve the Libyan problem."

Moscow is a key backer of Field Marshal Haftar.

Libyans walk on the Mediterranean coast of Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on April 24, 2020, on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.  / AFP / Abdullah DOMA

The conflict escalated sharply this month, with fierce fighting on several fronts in the west of the country despite urgent calls from the UN and aid agencies for a truce to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

The LNA said on Tuesday that a Turkish drone operated by a pro-GNA militia hit a food lorry convoy in the country's west, killing at least five civilians.

Ahmed Al Mosmari, a spokesman for the LNA, said the drone strike took place late Monday near the district Mizda, 184 kilometres south of Tripoli.

Turkey has sent armoured drones, air defences and more recently, Syrian militants with links to extremist groups to prop up the embattled Tripoli government.

The LNA control most of eastern and southern Libya while the besieged Tripoli administration rules just a corner of the country's west.

The EU's top diplomat and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy made a joint call on Saturday for a humanitarian truce in Libya, saying all sides must resume peace talks.

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano on Tuesday said the December 2015 agreement "remains the viable framework for a political solution in Libya, until amendments are found, or replacements are found" that are agreed to by all parties.

Mr Stano also called on all international interests in Libya to "increase their pressure" on the warring parties to help end the fighting and bring about a political settlement.

"Any attempt to push forward unilateral solutions, even more so by force, will never provide a sustainable solution for the country, and such attempts cannot be accepted," he said.

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