AP NEWS

Head of Libya UN-backed gov’t says rival wants to take power

May 8, 2019
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French President Emmanuel Macron, right, welcomes Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Sarraj met Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte Tuesday in Rome. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) — The head of Libya’s U.N.-backed government said Wednesday he is prepared to return to the peace process “as soon as possible” but that a fresh peace effort would be different due to the offensive on Tripoli by his rival, which he called an attempted coup.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj made the remarks in an interview with France 24 after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The offensive on Tripoli was launched April 4 by the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and based in the country’s east. The LNA is battling rival militias loosely allied with Sarraj’s government.

Sarraj denied as “propaganda” claims this week by Hifter’s LNA that fighters shot down an enemy plane over Tripoli on Monday and captured its European pilot.

The Libyan National Army released video footage Tuesday of a man in bloodied clothes who identified himself as a 29-year-old Portuguese national working as a contractor.

Both sides in Libya’s fighting accuse their opponents of being backed by foreign powers.

Sarraj claimed there are no more than five armed groups in Tripoli — compared to 115 when he arrived — and that they are integrated into the security forces.

He said that Hifter’s attack on Tripoli must be condemned “because it’s a coup (attempt), an attempt to take power by weapons, by force. ... He’s dreaming of entering Tripoli.”

Macron’s office expressed France’s continued support for Sarraj’s government and made no reference to claims by Sarraj’s side that France is secretly backing Hifter’s offensive.

Sarraj said Paris must “take a clearer position.”

The statement from Macron’s office said the French president “encouraged” and unconditional cease-fire and proposed an “evaluation of the behavior of armed groups in Libya,” working with the U.N., including those under Sarraj’s government. There was no elaboration.

Libya spiraled into chaos after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. A peace process under U.N. auspices has hit a dead end with the offensive.

Sarraj said he did not reject the peace process but said without elaborating that it would be “different.”

“We are prepared to return to the peace process as soon as possible,” he said.

Sarraj is visiting European capitals to shore up European support for his embattled government. After Rome, Paris and Berlin, Sarraj was headed to London.

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