Libya’s most powerful military commander has described Italians as “enemies” and accused some Libyans of being puppets of the Italian government.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army controls the east of the country, also threatened to move on the capital Tripoli, which has been devastated in recent weeks by militia clashes that left 63 dead and about 160 injured.
“We are not alone in this world. Yes, we can sit and agree on what is in favour of Libya, but now it has reached a stage of worshipping when we find Libyans speaking on behalf of Italy despite that those are enemies,” Field Marshal Haftar said.
Italy has thrown its weight behind the UN-backed government in Tripoli, which the LNA opposes. The administration, led by Fayez Al-Sarraj, is seen as weak and unable to control the rampant, institutionalised militias the government is reliant on. A ceasefire was agreed on Tuesday between the warring factions, following violence that shattered any illusion of stability in Tripoli.
“Tripoli must be liberated and will not remain in spoiled hands. The armed forces moves after accurate calculations. We will move towards Tripoli in the proper time,” Field Marshal Haftar was quoted as saying.
The LNA has long claimed it would mount an offensive on the capital when the time was right to "liberate" the city and areas outside of its control. Its forces were not involved in the clashes that battered Tripoli and largely remained silent until now.
At a Paris summit in May, four of Libya's key power bases seemingly agreed to hold a presidential election in December, although an electoral law has yet to be agreed on. Mr Sarraj and Field Marshal Haftar attended, as were figures from the Libyan parliament and the State Council, which is an advisory body.
Field Marshal Haftar insisted the LNA remained committed to the Paris agreement, but warned that any “glitches” would lead to action by his forces. “We fully support elections, but it has to be fair elections, because if it’s not, the army will act,” he said.
The French and Italian spat over the European Union has spilled over into Libya, with Italy supporting the unity government in Tripoli and France showing sympathy towards Field Marshal Haftar and his forces.
Last week, hardline Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blamed France for the migration crisis of which Italy has borne much of the European brunt. Italy also said the French were at fault for the Tripoli clashes because they supported Libyan rebels in the 2011 revolution that toppled the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The uneasy UN-brokered ceasefire agreed between Tripoli’s warring factions last week has largely held. However, residents in the south and west of Libya have been hit by complete power outages that have lasted in the region of three days, largely because of the clashes. The state electricity company said it was struggling to fix damaged facilities quickly enough to meet demand.