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Date TimeJuly 04, 2019
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Haftar Vows No Let Up in Tripoli Fight as He Dismisses Rival
(Bloomberg) -- Libya’s eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar vowed to press ahead with his grinding campaign to seize Tripoli, dismissing talks with the internationally-backed premier as a waste of time.Haftar, whose forces control the OPEC member’s east and south, shrugged off last week’s retreat from a strategic city close to the capital and said his fighters were trying to preserve lives and property. As the three-month-old battle for Tripoli deepens into a regional proxy war, he denied receiving U.S.-made weapons and pledged to secure the North African country’s oil infrastructure, most of which he already controls.“He can’t make his own decisions and says nothing that’s not dictated to him,” Haftar said of Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of the UN-backed government in Tripoli. “It’s not worth the trouble of paying attention to Sarraj or answering him because our time is valuable,” the 75-year-old said in written responses to questions from Bloomberg.Haftar’s comments signal there will be no let up in a conflict that has two rival administrations and myriad militias vying for control in a nation that is home to Africa’s largest proven oil reserves. With his self-styled Libyan National Army backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Sarraj supported by Turkey, the battle for Tripoli has morphed into the latest front in a broader struggle for supremacy in the Middle East.The UN wants to hold a reconciliation conference followed by elections to heal the divisions that burst to the fore after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar al-Qaddafi’s four decade rule in 2011, but the chances of imminent progress seem slim.More than 800 people have been killed in Haftar’s push for Tripoli, which was launched in April but has stalled on the capital’s outskirts. The human cost was driven home this week, when an airstrike on a detention center holding mainly African migrants caught trying to flee to Europe left more than 40 dead.The act earned worldwide condemnation and prompted the UN to call for an investigation. Both sides have traded blame.Analysts warned early on that any effort to capture the capital with his force of disciplined troops, militia irregulars and Islamic puritans would face fierce resistance. A field marshal who served in Qaddafi’s military before going into exile in the U.S., Haftar is supported by Libyans who argue only a strong military leader can pacify the country.‘Tremendous Caution’Haftar said the Tripoli campaign, part of a declared war on Islamist militants, had proceeded slowly because it required “tremendous caution to ensure the welfare of innocent citizens, first, and to avoid destroying facilities and installations.” If he hadn’t taken those concerns into account, “we would have ended the incursion in less than 24 hours,” Haftar said.The field marshal downplayed his withdrawal from Gharyan, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Tripoli and a key command base for the offensive, saying it had been factored into the broader military plan.After seizing Gharyan, Sarraj’s government said it discovered sophisticated U.S.-made missiles abandoned by Haftar’s fighters.The Javelin anti-tank missile launchers were originally sold to the United Arab Emirates, a close U.S. ally, according to Sarraj’s administration, raising questions over whether the Gulf state had violated a sales agreement with Washington and a UN arms embargo on Libya. The U.A.E. rejected the allegations, while Haftar said they were “fabrications.”Political SolutionWhile the U.S. and leading European nations continue to stress their backing for the UN process, they have boosted Haftar’s profile by hosting him in their capitals and extolling his role in fighting terrorism.“We don’t have any American weapons or have any weapons deal with America,” he said. “All the world knows that America is among the nations active in enforcing the arms embargo on us.” Any country that imported U.S. weapons wouldn’t transfer them to Libya because of the repercussions, he said.Though he described his military campaign as “the path to complete liberation” from “terrorists and armed groups that have snatched the capital and all its political and economic institutions,” Haftar left the door open for a political solution -- albeit one that doesn’t involve Sarraj, whom he said was powerless.“Let the politicians present their initiatives for peace and disarm the militias of their tanks, rockets and rifles,” he said. “We will be the first to support it.”\--With assistance from Tarek El-Tablawy.To contact the reporter on this story: Hatem Mohareb in Benghazi at hmohareb@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Mark Williams, Michael GunnFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.




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