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West ready to strike IS in Libya, Haftar set for collision with Tripoli
Published in Albawaba on 20 - 12 - 2015

Senior Maltese government sources have expressed concern at the increasingly convoluted situation in Libya which could lead to further violence if renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army attempts to force its way into Tripoli.
Last Thursday, a fragile peace deal was signed in Moroc- co by some MPs from the rival parliaments – the House of Representatives of Tobruk, and the General National Congress of Tripoli – in a bid to end the 18-month civil strife.
But two days earlier, on Tuesday, the presidents of both parliaments came to Malta to declare that they would forge ahead with their own unity government after refusing the UN deal presented by special representatives Bernardino Leon and now Martin Kobler.
One of the key points of this week's UN-brokered deal is that of creating a safe passage for the new UN-backed government and Haftar's army could play a key role since the two rival governments currently in control of the North African country are refusing to make way for the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Moreover, the newly chosen UN-backed government could pave the way for a NATO military intervention, with the United Nations Security Council expected to approve a resolution endorsing the North African country's third government this week.
Four years after Muammar Gaddafi's fall, Libya is deeply fractured, with a self- declared government in Tripoli and an internationally recognised one in the east – each backed by coalitions of armed militias and tribes.
However, the GNA deal is not supported by the influential leaders of the two rival parliaments, indicating that the GNA will not be formally sanctioned by the Tripoli parliament
(GNC) and the internationally recognised HoR.
Following the two sides' meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Valletta on Tuesday, foreign minister George Vella said that while the government fully supports the UN process, Malta is "proud" to be the only interlocutor for the UN deal detractors.
The opposition to the deal will make it very difficult for the GNA to take seat in the country's capital, Tripoli, as envisaged by the UN deal. While ruling out the possibility of the government being "exiled" in Malta, Vella said if the GNA fails to enter Tripoli this could spell more uncertainty.
"The GNC has clearly said that it does not accept the GNA so we cannot expect them to make way for the new government," Vella said.
While reiterating Malta's support for the UN-brokered deal, Vella called for caution and "wider consensus" to avoid the pitfalls that plagued other splintered countries.
He explained that the leaders of the HoR, president Aguila Saleh Issa and the president of
the Islamist-controlled GNC, Nuri Abusahmin, demanded to meet in Malta.
Vella said that a number of countries were "alarmed" by the meeting but he reassured the EU and other major players that Malta was only offering a safe venue for the two sides since they did not consider Libya to be safe.
"We gladly accepted the request of the presidents of GNC and HoR, who met for the very first time in Malta," Vella said, adding that while Malta did not participate in the meeting he conveyed the presidents' message to UN envoy Martin Kobler.
"When the meeting was over, I called Kobler to inform him that the two presidents had agreed that they would not support the agreement but were open to hold further talks with the UN."
Just before midnight on Tuesday,Abusahmin and Aguila Saleh were prepared to hold a video conference with Kobler. However, Vella added that much to the Libyans' disappointment Kobler informed him that "it was too late" and refused to hold further talks before the signing of the agreement on Thursday.
Both rival factions are divided on the UN agreement and the UN has been accused by senior Libyan political leaders of carefully selecting members from both parliaments favourable to the deal, which was signed by the GNC and HoR's deputy presidents.
Underlining Malta's role as an interlocutor for all sides, Vella stressed the need for a broad agreement between all sides to strengthen Libya's institutions, bolster border control and defeat ISIS.
The Tobruk government embassy's media attaché, Ahmed Lamin, Vella said that a number of countries were "alarmed" by the meeting but he reassured the EU and other major players that Malta was only offering a safe venue for the two sides since they did not con- sider Libya to be safe.
"We gladly accepted the request of the presidents of GNC and HoR, who met for the very first time in Malta," Vella said, adding that while Malta did not participate in the meeting he conveyed the presidents' message to UN envoy Martin Kobler.
"When the meeting was over, I called Kobler to inform him that the two presidents had agreed that they would not support the agreement but were open to hold further talks with the UN."

Just before midnight on Tuesday, Abusahmin and Aguila Saleh were prepared to hold a video conference with Kobler. However, Vella added that much to the Libyans' disappointment Kobler informed him that "it was too late" and refused to hold further talks before the signing of the agreement on Thursday.
Both rival factions are divided on the UN agreement and the UN has been accused by senior Libyan political leaders of carefully selecting members from both parliaments favourable to the deal, which was signed by the GNC and HoR's deputy presidents.
 Underlining Malta's role as an interlocutor for all sides, Vella stressed the need for a broad agreement between all sides to strengthen Libya's institutions, bolster border control and defeat ISIS.
The Tobruk government embassy's media attaché, Ahmed Lamin, has however told MaltaToday that he was confident that despite Aguila Saleh's opposition to the deal the president and the majority of the HoR would approve the new government handpicked by the UN.
Attempts to reach representatives of the GNC in Malta were unsuccessful.
Boots on the ground
According to media reports, the international community is planning to deploy a 6,000-strong Italian-led force to Libya after the signing of the UN-sponsored peace deal.
Lamin said the HoR would be discussing the possibility of approving boots on the ground next week, but stopped short of saying whether the Tobruk government supports the move.
The international community, especially Italy, France and the UK have been toying with the idea of sending troops to Libya for months.
For months this has not been possible because both rival governments vehemently opposed a foreign military presence but with a newly installed UN backed government this could change.
The idea for a NATO ‘peace- keeping' force to combat jihadi extremists and human smugglers was first floated by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Febru- ary. Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni and defence minister Roberta Pinotti hinted that Italy was ready to send 5,000 troops to its former colony.
Although Gentiloni later retracted these claims, Pinotti had said that since Italy had sent 5,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, Italy should do likewise in Libya.
So far, the lack of authorisation by Libyan authorities has delayed plans for a military intervention in Libya targeting both ISIS and human smugglers. But the installation of a new UN backed government could pave the way for a foreign military presence in Libya.
On Friday, UK defence secretary Michael Fallon told Forces TV that Britain was prepared to deploy up to 1,000 soldiers to Libya. A team of half a dozen Special Forces operatives will be sent first to carry out a ‘scoping' mission before the full cohort of British troops are sent to train Libyan fighters next year.
Elite SAS soldiers are to be armed to wage war against ISIS fighters who in recent months have taken control of the coastal towns of Derna and Sirte.
Fallon said the British government expects to be asked by the new UN-backed Libyan government to deploy troops to train and advise the country's armed forces.
Earlier this week US special forces had to leave Wattiya airbase in western Libya soon after their arrival after the Libyan Air Force posted photos of the soldiers on its Facebook page.
The photos confirmed long-standing rumours that US Commandos were in Libya and Wattiya's proximity to Sabratha, site of the Islamic State's western Libya base, heightened speculation that the US is poised to launch strikes on the terror group.
Pentagon sources confirmed to US media that the special forces unit was part of a mission sent this week, but it was unclear why the soldiers were in the military air-base controlled by Haftar's army.
In recent weeks, French and US reconnaissance flights have flown over Sabratha and ISIS bases further east at Sirte, Benghazi and Derna.
It is estimated that up to 3,000 ISIS fighters are operating in Libya and receiving support from the group's base in Syria. "Libya worries me because Daesh (IS) has installed itself by taking advantage of local rivalries," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on 22 November.
Justifying French reconnaissance flights he said "if we can unite those forces against Daesh, it will no longer exist as the forces have sufficient military means."
ISIS has used the anarchy generated by the fall of Gaddafi, and the ensuing conflict between the rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk, to gain a foothold in the oil-rich country.
France already has some 3,500 troops deployed across West Africa, including near the southern border of Libya, originally deployed to counter an Islamist insurgency in Mali.
‘Another Gaddafi'
Sources close to both the Tripoli and Tobruk governments have told MaltaToday that Haftar is not a trusted figure by leading politi- cians on both sides and some fear that Haftar will orchestrate a coup "just like Gaddafi did in 1969."
Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally, is a divisive figure and in September Libya's internationally recognised government's prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni was arrested by Haftar's forces before leaving for Malta. In 2014, former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan described the general's calls for a coup as "ridiculous".
The UN-backed unity government is expected to make an official demand to have the UN Security Council lift the arms embargo, with the presence of ISIS being seen as a pretext for such a move.
During the unprecedented meeting between Kobler and Haftar, the renegade general called for an end to the arms embargo to help fight Islamist militants.
"Dialogue cannot continue as it did in the past without any benefit. Otherwise it's a waste of time," Haftar told reporters. "We need the arms embargo on the Libyan army to be lifted, and with that we will have the weapons to carry out our proper role."
Kobler said the UN recognised unity government was necessary to provide support or lift the arms embargo. But that would also require a national army for the whole country, he said.
This has fuelled fears that Haftar could snatch control of the country if he is allowed into Tripoli as the UN-backed government's official army.


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