Veteran Commander Vies for Power in Libya’s Shifting Sands | World News
FILE PHOTO: Libya’s eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar salutes as he participates in General Security conference, in Benghazi, Libya, October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/File PhotoReuters
By Aidan Lewis
TUNIS (Reuters) – When Khalifa Haftar flew to Tunis in September, the veteran commander and possible future leader of Libya brought masked troops armed with automatic rifles and grenade launchers in a show of force that drew censure from U.N. experts.
In France, Italy and Tunisia, he also shook hands with ministers and presidents in gilded reception rooms, projecting a different image: that of a man preparing to convert the military gains of his Libyan National Army (LNA) into civilian power.
Haftar casts himself as the person who can bring stability to Libya after years of conflict, ridding the OPEC member of Islamist militants and reining in migrant smuggling to Europe.
Some of those who have worked with him describe him as a divisive military man with little time for politics, who could try to reinstate authoritarian rule and bring more violence to a country where armed groups jealously guard local fiefdoms.
A former ally of Muammar Gaddafi, Haftar, 75, returned to Libya seven years ago from the United States, to join the Nato-backed revolution that ended four decades of one-man rule.
After a protracted military campaign in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, he has promised to “liberate” the capital Tripoli, split from the east since 2014. Elections, which the United Nations says could be organized by the end of the year despite major obstacles, may provide another route to power.
Haftar seems to be hedging his bets. The LNA, he said last month, has “sleeper cells” it could activate to take full control of Libya while prioritizing a political solution to avoid bloodshed.
“But our patience has limits”, he said in the interview published in French magazine Jeune Afrique, before adding that Libya was not “ripe for democracy”.
Mohamed Buisier, a U.S.-based engineer who served as an advisor to Haftar from 2014-2016 before falling out with him, said Haftar wanted absolute power.
“He wants to get to one of the big palaces in Tripoli and rule Libya – that is it,” he said.
Haftar’s office said he did not immediately have time for an interview.