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Tue, 21 Jan 2020 14:54 GMT

LNA: We Will Never Stop Fighting Terrorists in Libya

Counterterrorism & Security

Abdelsatar Hetieta

Tue, 14 Jan 2020 15:19 GMT

An advisor to the Libyan National Army (LNA) has said that any ceasefire will not stop the forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar from fighting terrorism in every corner of the country.

Speaking to 7Dnews regarding the Russian call for a ceasefire between the LNA and the Fayez al-Sarraj-headed Tripoli government, Salah Eddine al-Shokri underlined the two goals of Haftar's forces: firstly, to disarm the militias and secondly, to eliminate terrorist groups.

"Any international-sponsored truce that does not meet these two objectives will be useless," said al-Shokri.

He added that the LNA will not accept any armistice deal that does not stipulate the eradication of armed militias from Libya, referring to the ceasefire initiated by Moscow last Monday and the one to be discussed at a Berlin summit next Sunday.

The LNA has been engaged in operations against the Tripoli-based armed militias since last April. Recent Haftar victories at the outskirts of the capital and his capture of Sirte, a strategically important city midway along Libya’s coastline, were a major blow to the al-Sarraj government.

Regional and international parties are trying to find a solution to the heated conflict between the Libyan opponents which has grown even fiercer since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj signed two agreements last November, one for security and military cooperation, the other for restriction of marine jurisdictions.

The LNA has sharply rejected the two deals, which it sees as paving the way for the Turkish occupation of Libya. Meanwhile, the al-Sarraj government argues that it is the only authority recognised by the international community and that the steps it takes and the international agreements it concludes aim at achieving stability and building a civil state.

Al-Sarraj also accuses Haftar of seeking to establish a military authority, an accusation he repeatedly denies, confirming that he only seeks to save the country from chaos, without having any personal political ambitions.

War and Peace

During the last two weeks, many Libyan tribes have come out against the al-Sarraj agreements with Turkey. The Libyan parliament also said that the pacts on maritime borders and on security and military cooperation allow Erdogan to interfere in Libyan affairs.

"The Libyan people have become more aware of the potential dangers surrounding them," said Shokri. "They neither want the militias and terrorists to continue to exist in their country nor the Turks to reoccupy Libya."

He added that the parliament had decided to bring al-Sarraj and senior officials in his government to trial for high treason.

Since the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011, the Libyan army has been weakened, but Field Marshal Haftar managed to restructure it in 2014 with the support of the parliament elected that year. The army has achieved victories over armed militias and terrorist groups in the east and south of the country and since last April, it has begun to approach the capital, Tripoli.

Since the launch of its operations in 2014, the LNA has adopted clear and specific objectives: to achieve security, disarming of the militias, and elimination of terrorist groups, according to Shokri.

As for the controversy over the ceasefire which Russia called for and the obstacles that may hinder conducting a truce prior to the Berlin summit, Shokri made it clear that the Russian-brokered agreement is conditional.

"Without the disarmament of the militias and the elimination of terrorist groups, no deal would be struck," he said, identifying the main conditions set by the LNA.

Obstacles and Pressures

Haftar and his rival al-Sarraj flew to Russia on Monday for talks under the mediation of the host country and Turkey.

Haftar's abrupt departure from Moscow in the early hours of Tuesday without signing a ceasefire agreement was a setback for an international diplomatic push in recent days, though Moscow insisted it would continue mediation efforts.

"At the request of friendly countries, including Russia and the US, the LNA agreed to a ceasefire, in order to show good intentions, but still it has not given up on its principles," Shokri said.

"We are continuing to fight terrorism and we will not stop until stability is maintained throughout Libya."

Regarding the conference scheduled to be held in Berlin next Sunday, Shokri reiterated that any international effort to disarm and dismantle militias and to give the Libyan people the right to free elections without threats are always welcomed.

Asked about his interpretation of the delay in achieving control over Tripoli, Shokri answered that there were no obstacles, but the army follows tactics to deal with armed groups inside the capital to protect civilians.

"We are simply dragging terrorist groups from within the city to eliminate them without harming the civilians... We have been successful in this."

He added that the Libyan army never commits war crimes, in spite of the militias' allegations.

"The militias and terrorist groups target residential areas and public facilities with heavy weapons, shoot down innocent people and then claim that such crimes were committed by the army. They did the same thing in Benghazi."

No to a Divided Libya

Dozens of Libyan tribes have recently issued statements denouncing any attempt to divide Libya. Their statements reflect their fears that foreign interventions and cease-fire initiatives may lead to the division of their country between east, west and south. Those statements also include a clear rejection of Turkish military support for the al-Sarraj government.

"We won't cease fire because we are working on the unity of Libya," Shokri said. "We won't allow any geographic demarcation lines between Libyan cities that might later lead to a division.

"This is against the army's creed and most of the Libyans' who are keen on their national unity. That's why we won't negotiate with the terrorists."

The Turkish support for the Tripoli government was carried out clandestinely until Erdogan and al-Sarraj signed a security and military agreement last November. Since then, Ankara has openly declared its support for the Tripoli government despite the arms embargo imposed on Libya since February 2011 relating to the supply of weapons and military equipment to and from the war-torn country.

The LNA has shot down drones targeting its forces, believed to be coming from Turkey, but launched from bases in Tripoli and Misrata, east of the capital, and Zuwara, on the Libyan-Tunisian border. The LNA has also denounced Turkey's supply of weapons and equipment to al-Sarraj forces and accused Erdogan's regime of sending terrorist fighters from northern Syria to Libya.

In this context, Shokri said that LNA has found Turkish military equipment around Tripoli and in the recently seized Sirte.

"During the last few days, we confiscated many Turkish military supplies that were directed to the militias. In Sirte alone, we found 48 Turkish vehicles and other equipment and weapons," he said.

Shokri expressed his fear of what he called "conspiracies to allow armed groups gain a foothold in his country, and to turn Libya into another Syria through suspicious Turkish practices.”

He said: "We, in the army, consider all those who carry arms outside the framework of military, police and security institutions to be terrorists, regardless of their ideologies, and thus they must surrender their weapons.

"In any part of the world, a gunman is a gunman, whether he is moderate or extremist."

Mass Exodus and Victims

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands wounded, and dozens of families have been displaced from Tripoli since the fighting flared up in April between the LNA and the militias on which al-Sarraj government relies. Among the victims were about 40 cadets from the military academy in al-Hadba al-Khadra, a residential sector of the Libyan capital. A statement by the Tripoli government claimed that the LNA was behind the bombardment of the school on January 4th.

Speaking to 7Dnews, Shokri said that the students were known to support the LNA and they used to broadcast pro-Haftar patriotic songs using loudspeakers. They were also organising an uprising against nearby militias and that is why the armed groups retaliated, according to Shokri.

"The militias killed two birds with one stone; they got rid of the students whom they regarded as a danger in their region, and then blamed the atrocity on the LNA," he said, adding that the LNA is committed to international humanitarian laws.

"Militias seem to forget that modern technology is capable of detecting the doer."

Clashes in several areas around the capital, including al-Hadaba, Ain Zara, and Wadi al-Rabie, have driven hundreds of citizens to flee their homes to safer places either in the heart of Tripoli or in neighbouring cities amid fears that the continuation of the conflict may lead to more human tragedies.

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