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ThegGuardian.com: Shadow Armies: The Unseen, But Real US War in Africa

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Libya may not be ready for democracy, says military strongman

Khalifa Haftar claims he has army of 75,000 men and could try to seize power if unhappy with outcome of UN-led election

The Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar has warned that the country may not be ready for democracy even though the UN is planning to hold elections this year.

Haftar, a former CIA asset who controls nearly half of Libya from his base in the east of the country, said: “The upcoming elections in the country must bring a solution to the current bloodshed, but if the situation and the chaos continue after the elections, then we will say ‘enough is enough’ and take action.”

The UN’s plan to hold elections this year has been advanced by Ghassan Salama, the UN special envoy to Libya, and is part of an effort to break a three-year deadlock that has left the oil rich country divided and rudderless.

But the proposal has unnerved some observers who fear that the run-up to the elections will only lead to greater political instability and violence. Haftar’s apparent conditional support for democracy will only add to those fears.

He enjoys backing from Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, while France is edging towards support if he is fairly elected. The UN has been backing a rival but severely weakened government based in Tripoli, headed by the prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj.

Haftar’s comments may be intended as a warning that he will give the elections one chance, but if he feels the process has not been satisfactory, or the results are not properly accepted, he may try to seize power – something he has repeatedly threatened to do.

Just before Christmas, he endorsed the principle of the UN-led elections and said in his latest interview that the elections must be held as soon as possible, but they needed to be conducted transparently and with compulsory voting. He stressed the elections “should be organised before the elected representatives agree on a constitution”.

He insisted he had put military action on hold because “we are giving priority to the political process. Where the possibility of a solution emerged at the ballot box, we stopped. We wanted to avoid bloodshed, but our patience has its limits. If we are sure that this road is a dead end, we have sleeper cells in 10% of the land that we do not control and can easily activate.”

Haftar claims to have as many as 75,000 army members and says he controls vast areas of the country, including a large part of the country’s oil-producing region. However, his claims have not been confirmed and, without opinion polls, it is hard to know if his eastern stronghold is large enough to ensure he wins the elections.

Libya currently has two governments, one run by Sarraj, which is based in Tripoli and supported by the UN, and another closer to Haftar, based in Tobruk.

In the interview, Haftar described Saif al-Islam as politically naive and said it was “illogical” for the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to run for election as he has no popular support.

Haftar claimed Sarraj was, in effect, a hostage to militias in Tripoli saying: “It is very difficult for him to take decisions, let alone implement them.”

“Sarraj needs more seriousness in order to have the upper hand on the ground in the Libyan capital,” Haftar explained. “On many occasions, I tried to push him to take decisive actions, but he did not,” he said, adding that he told Sarraj to be more strict about the “situation in Tripoli since it was run by terrorists and militias”.

 

 

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