German, French foreign ministers in Libya in show of support

AP News
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Posted: Apr 16, 2016 1:05 PM

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The German and French foreign ministers said Saturday while on a joint visit to Libya that the country's new U.N.-brokered unity government has the international community and Europe's full support.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, that he believes only Libyans are able to rebuild their national institutions and fight the Islamic State group, which has exploited the chaos over the past two years in Libya to establish a foothold in the country.

The visit by Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault follows a Thursday visit by the ambassadors of France, Britain and Spain who pledged to reopen embassies closed two years ago because of instability in the country.

"We know that a fresh start for public institutions is difficult. We know how difficult it is to rally loyal security forces behind this government, and we certainly don't underestimate the task required to combat the tumor of Daesh," said Steinmeier, with reference to the Islamic State group's Arabic acronym. "But we also know that only the Libyans themselves can shoulder this task in the end."

The country slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi, with an array of militias, including Islamic extremists, carving out fiefdoms and backing rival authorities.

Most foreign embassies closed in 2014 as Tripoli descended into heavy clashes between militias supporting rival camps. The country has split it into rival governments and parliaments: an outdated parliament and a government backed by a set of Islamist militias and seated in Tripoli, and second parliament and its government based in eastern Libya, which had been internationally recognized as legitimate.

Western nations now hope the U.N.-backed government of prime minister-designate Fayez Serraj can unite the country in order to combat an increasingly powerful Islamic State affiliate.

Steinmeier said the two ministers had brought medical aid with them on their trip and would provide support for various efforts to rebuild infrastructure and provide security in Libya.

The government, known as the Government of National Accord or the GNA, has yet to receive an endorsement from the eastern parliament, which is Libya's last elected House of Representatives. A vote is scheduled to take place on April 18.

The eastern parliament fears sweeping changes in the leadership of the Libyan army, currently led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter who has led a two-year campaign against Islamic extremists in the eastern city of Benghazi. In an interview last week, Hifter told the Egyptian Al-Ahram Al-Arabi magazine that Libya's army will support the unity government if it wins the eastern parliament's endorsement.

"We want to help the people of Libya feel that the political agreement is linked to the possibility of leading a life in peace and security once again," Steinmeier said.

Serraj arrived in Tripoli by sea on March 30 and has so far been able to rally support from Tripoli's militias and many of the municipal councils in western Libya. The Central Bank and state-run National Oil Corporation have also backed Serraj's unity government.

Steinmeier called on "all those to whose heart the future of this country is dear" to support the government of national unity. "We in Europe are doing so, and France and Germany stand by your side."