Eastern Libyan military commanders urge closure of road to west

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Military commanders in eastern Libya said on Saturday they had suspended participation in a United Nations(UN)-backed joint military council, accusing the Tripoli-based government of failing to hand power to a new cabinet and calling for the road west to be closed.

Libya has had rival governments since last month when the eastern-based parliament appointed Fathi Bashagha to replace the Tripoli-based prime minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, creating a new standoff between administrations in the east and west.

The eastern Libyan members of the so-called 5+5 military council – set up as part of a peace process two years ago and comprising commanders from the east and west – called on military commander Khalifa Haftar to close the road linking east and west Libya and to shut off oil exports.

In a statement, they also called on Haftar to halt all cooperation with the Tripoli-based government.

Haftar wields major sway in the east and the forces he commands blockaded Libya’s oil facilities for months in 2020 during a previous standoff with rivals in Tripoli.

There was no immediate comment from the Tripoli-based government to Saturday’s statement.

Libya has had little peace since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions that backed rival governments.

The country had been due to hold an election in December as part of a peace process backed by the United Nations, but the vote was delayed amid factional disputes over the rules.

After the election process fell apart, the parliament said Dbeibah’s government had expired and selected Bashagha to head a new transitional period towards elections next year – a move rejected by other factions.

Dbeibah has said he would only quit after an election.

The Tobruk-based parliament appointed Bashagha on March 1. He has not yet made it to Tripoli, being blocked on the road by forces aligned with Debeibah.

Both governments claim legitimacy and there are fears of new fighting or a territorial division between them. The U.N. and Western countries are trying to revive the failed election.