GENEVA – Libya’s government took a firm position at peace talks in Switzerland on Monday, demanding that renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar withdraw from the ramparts of the capital and describing him as a “war criminal”.
The internationally recognized government nearly walked out of talks last week aimed at creating a ceasefire in Tripoli, which eastern commander Haftar has been trying to capture. The government blamed Haftar’s forces for shelling Tripoli’s port shortly after the talks got under way.
Since being persuaded by a U.N. envoy to stay, the government side has taken a hard line in public, saying there can be no deal while Haftar’s forces remain in place.
“Our delegation is insisting that forces of Haftar have to withdraw from where they are now,” foreign affairs minister Mohamed Syala told journalists.
Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj labeled Haftar a “war criminal” at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, held in the same headquarters building where the peace talks have taken place.
“Children have lost their right to education due to the shelling and the closure of schools because of the attacker and those who fund the attacker and provide weapons, these must be held accountable,” Serraj told the forum.
Nearly nine years since NATO-backed rebels overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is still without a central authority in control of its towns and cities. Armed groups patrol the streets, while rival governments are in place in Tripoli and the east.
The most powerful figure in the east, Haftar, launched a bid last year to capture the capital in the west. He has support of countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli government is backed by Turkey.
Syala said he was “astonished” that the international community had not forced Haftar to reopen oil fields that he has shut in recent weeks and end a blockade which has cut off nearly all of Libya’s access to funds.
He said one reason could be a desire by big countries to keep oil prices high, “and if that’s the reason it is inhuman”.