France said Tuesday that the Libyan conflict could not be resolved by unilateral decisions, but only in the framework of a dialogue supported by the United Nations after the decision of the military leader of eastern Libya, Khalifa Haftar, to take control of the country.
“The solution to the Libyan conflict can only go through dialogue between the parties under the aegis of the United Nations, and not through unilateral decisions,” said Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Olivier Gauvin in a statement which made no direct reference to Haftar.
“There is no alternative to an inclusive political solution, as part of the conclusions of the Berlin conference,” said Gauvin, adding that Paris was committed to the unity and stability of Libya.
Haftar said on Monday that his Libyan National Army (LNA) was accepting a “popular mandate” to govern the country, apparently dismissing the civilian authorities who nominally govern eastern Libya.
The Libyan government recognized by the UN on Tuesday accused a strong man of his rival of seeking to organize a new coup.
Accused by critics of wanting to install a new military dictatorship, Haftar, who controls parts of eastern and southern Libya, announced that his so-called “army” was “proud to have been given the historic task” to lead Libya.
Analysts said his move was a sign that he wanted to consolidate power after a series of setbacks earlier this month, when GNA forces captured a series of strategic cities west of Tripoli.
The oil-rich North African nation has been in chaos since the overthrow and murder of longtime dictator Moamer Gaddafi in 2011, with rival administrations to the east and west in search of power.
Haftar claims the legitimacy of an eastern parliament elected in 2014, but the organization has not said whether it supports its decision.
He did not specify how he received his “mandate” or from what institution.
He also did not say whether the parliament, which had been forced to relocate its headquarters after the violence tore apart Tripoli six years ago, would be dissolved.
A source close to Haftar said he was about to announce a new government in eastern Libya.
Haftar also announced the end of the Skhirat agreement, an agreement concluded in 2015 with United Nations mediation in Morocco that produced the Tripoli-based unity government.
In a pre-dawn statement, the national accord government in Tripoli denounced Haftar’s announcement as “a farce and the latest in a long series of coups.”
Haftar had previously announced the end of the Skhirat deal in 2017 and three years earlier also said on television that he was taking power in Libya.
The United Nations, which negotiated the deal, expressed concern Tuesday over Haftar’s decision.
“For us, the (Skhirat) agreement, the institutions that flow from it, remain the only internationally recognized framework of government in Libya,” said UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.
Pro-Haftar forces have been fighting to capture Tripoli since April of last year, but their offensive has stalled on the edge of the capital.
Earlier this month, GNA forces ousted them from two key coastal towns west of Tripoli.
Supported by Turkey, they now surround Haftar’s main rear base in Tarhunah, 60 kilometers (39 miles) southeast of the capital.
The GNA said that Haftar’s latest announcement was an attempt to “cover up the defeat of his militias and mercenaries” and “the failure of his dictatorial project”.
Hamish Kinnear, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said his decision “to formalize direct control over eastern Libyans was a sign of his growing desperation over the successes of the GNA in western Libya”.
“By sweeping away the authority of (parliament) and electing himself as the undisputed leader in the east, Haftar is at the center of any negotiated solution,” said Kinnear.
In recent months, foreign military support has exacerbated the Libyan conflict, with the United Arab Emirates and Russia supporting Haftar and Ankara providing the GNA.
On Tuesday, however, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that Moscow “is still convinced that the only possible solution in Libya depends on political and diplomatic contacts between the parties to the conflict”.
Washington called for dialogue between the two sides and a “humanitarian” truce.
The US Embassy in Libyat said that “the United States regrets … Haftar’s suggestion that changes to the political structure of Libya may be imposed by a unilateral declaration”.
European Union spokesman Peter Stano said that “any attempt to advance unilateral solutions – even more by force – will never provide a lasting solution” for Libya.
The GNA said that Haftar had “turned his back on the parallel political institutions that supported him and designated him” chief of the army.
“Haftar now demands that (Parliament) submit fully to the military, whether by mutual agreement or by unilateral force,” said Jalal Harchaoui, researcher at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.
Like Libyaitself, lawmakers are divided between those who support Haftar and those from Tripoli who oppose him.
On Tuesday, the GNA invited “legislators staying in the east to join their colleagues from Tripoli to resume dialogue and restart the political process”.
But Harchaoui said that few in the east of the country were likely to join anti-Haftar lawmakers in Tripoli.
Emad Badi, a Libyan analyst at the Atlantic Council, said that Haftar hoped to establish himself as the only power in eastern Libya and oust any actor in favor of dialogue.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)