The renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar has been offered the role of Libya’s army chief on condition he supports the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, according to the government’s foreign minister.
Mohamed al-Taher Siala said Haftar, who has waged war on Tripoli, would get the role if he recognised the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli as the sole authority in Libya.
“Haftar must first accept to work under a civilian authority and officially approve the political deal” that gave rise to the power-sharing authority, Siala told AFP by phone from Algiers.
Haftar, who heads the self-styled Libyan National Army, does not recognise Tripoli and instead backs a rival parliament based in Tobruk, in the country’s far east.
That parliament, Libya’s sole elected house of representatives, has also refused to endorse the GNA.
Siala spoke a day after making controversial comments about Haftar in Algiers following a regional meeting towards ending the conflict in Libya.
“Haftar was named by a parliament elected by the Libyan people. He is the head of the Libyan army. There is no doubt about that,” he said on Monday, just days after a rare face-to-face meeting between Haftar and GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj in Abu Dhabi.
On Tuesday, Siala said he did not understand why his comments were seen as controversial since he had made the same remarks previously.
Tensions soared in the Libyan capital after Siala’s comments on Monday, with tanks and armoured vehicles deployed to protect the GNA’s headquarters, witnesses said.
The powerful GNA-allied militia in Tripoli on Tuesday denounced the minister’s remarks in a statement.
It said the idea of the parliament giving Haftar legitimacy “went against the Libya political agreement” inked in December 2015 that gave rise to the unity government.
That UN-brokered deal gave no role to Haftar or his forces, but the strongman has since imposed himself as a key player, especially after seizing the country’s key oil terminals in September.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 revolt that toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, with rival militias and authorities vying for control of the oil-rich country.
International powers had for months been pushing Serraj and Haftar to discuss resetting a UN-mediated agreement that led to the creation of the GNA in late 2015.
Both men said they had agreed to put an end to violence in southern Libya, where LNA and pro-GNA forces clashed in early April around an airbase on the edge of the southern city of Sebha.