Libya: General Haftar orders forces to take Tripoli as crisis escalates

Forces in eastern Libya have been ordered to march on the capital Tripoli, sparking fears of a major new conflict.

The order, given by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) came as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was visiting Tripoli and raised “deep concerns” about the latest developments.

General Haftar made his order in a video posted online hours after his forces took full control of Gharyan, a town about 60 miles (96.6km) south of the capital.

He said: “To our army which is stationed at the outskirts of Tripoli, today we complete our march… we are going to start shortly.”

Mr Guterres said he was “deeply concerned by the military movement taking place in Libya and the risk of confrontation”.

Armed groups from the western city of Misrata which back the government say they will stop any advance on the capital.

General Haftar urged his forces to enter the city peacefully and only raise their weapons “in the face of those who seek injustice and prefer confrontation and fighting”.

He also urged troops not to open fire on any civilians or those who are unarmed.

“Those who lay down their weapons are safe, and those who raise the white banner are safe,” he said.

Mr Guterres said: “I am deeply concerned by the military movement taking place in Libya and the risk of confrontation.

“There is no military solution. Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems. I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country.”

France, the UK, Italy and UAE have also said they are “deeply concerned” and called on both sides to “de-escalate tensions”.

Libya had split between rival governments in the east and west after descending into chaos following the 2011 NATO-supported uprising that saw long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi overthrown and killed.

The UN-backed government in Tripoli said it had put its forces on high alert.

General Haftar met Prime Minister Fayez al Serraj from the UN-backed government at a conference in December but refused to attend official talks.

The announcement of an advancement on Tripoli comes days before it is hoped a UN-brokered conference can bridge the gap among Libya’s factions to draw a road map for new elections and end the country’s split.

General Haftar’s army has spread its footprint from eastern Libya, where it first fought mostly Islamic militias and Islamist groups, starting in 2014.

The campaign extended towards the south as General Haftar’s forces took control of key towns and border crossings earlier this year and are now pushing west towards Tripoli.

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