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Libyan militias resist advance of pro-Haftar forces

April 5, 2019

Militias in Libya's west say they are determined to stop a bid by military strongman Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital. The escalation of tensions has raised prospects of renewed civil war in the country.

Khalifa Haftar
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Monteforte

Militias from the western Libyan cities of Zawiya and Misrata said on Friday that they would resist an advance on the capital by rival army commander Khalifa Haftar, with reports that his forces had been pushed back from a key checkpoint near the city.

The push toward Tripoli by Haftar, who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army, comes amid growing fears of a renewed civil conflict in Libya. The country has been bitterly divided since rebels and a Western military intervention ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Infografik Karte Libyen Gharyan EN

What is happening in Libya?

  • Haftar announced on Thursday that his forces would begin a push on the capital, Tripoli, currently controlled by a UN-backed unity government.
  • His troops have already taken full control of Gharyan, a town about 100 km (60 miles) south of Tripoli.
  • Militiamen from Zawiya, west of Tripoli, were reported by the AFP news agency to have retaken a base from pro-Haftar forces.
  • The uptick in violence comes as a UN-organized reconciliation conference is due to be held in mid-April.
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is flying to eastern Libya on Friday to meet Haftar in a bid to avoid a military confrontation.

Read more: Khalifa Haftar: Libya's military strongman 

Russia denies involvement

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Moscow supported a negotiated political resolution to the situation in Libya. 

"Of course, we consider that the most important thing is that operations there do not lead to bloodshed. The situation should be resolved peacefully," he said, while also saying that the Russian government was not backing pro-Haftar forces during their advance.

Ahead of a planned meeting with Haftar, UN Secretary-General Guterres also said on Twitter that there was "no military solution for the Libyan crisis, only a political one."

A torn country: Libya has been without a stable government since the NATO-backed uprising toppled Gadhafi in 2011. Since then, dozens of militias have fought for control of the oil-rich country. Although a Tripoli-based interim government, the Government of National Accord, was set up with UN backing in 2015, it has been unable to enforce its authority in the entire country. Haftar's so-called Libyan National Army backs a parallel administration in the east that has emerged as a major rival to that in Tripoli.

Read more: Libya: The road from revolution to civil war

What happens next: The UN reconciliation conference is to convene in the Libyan desert town of Ghadames from April 14-16 and is aimed at outlining a plan for achieving peace in the country, including setting a date for holding long-delayed elections.

tj/jil (AP, AFP)