AP Interview: Libya PM says UN-backed unity deal unworkable

AP News
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Posted: Jul 05, 2016 4:20 PM
AP Interview: Libya PM says UN-backed unity deal unworkable

CAIRO (AP) — Libya's prime minister said Tuesday that the United Nations is trying to impose an unworkable agreement on the country's various factions that is "screwing up" the political process and will never be accepted by parliament.

Abdullah al-Thinni is the head of a weak, interim government based in eastern Libya that answers to its internationally recognized parliament. In Tripoli, the capital, his rival Fayez Serraj runs a U.N.-brokered presidency council and a designated government, which has failed to win parliament's endorsement.

The international community has rallied behind the U.N.-brokered government, hoping it can unite the country and its various militias against an Islamic State affiliate and other extremist groups, which have gained a foothold in the chaotic years since the 2011 uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi.

But al-Thinni, a 62-year-old retired army officer and former defense minister under Gadhafi, will have none of it.

"The presidency council wants to run the state without a parliament approval ... would you accept such a farce in Europe?" he told The Associated Press in an interview in Cairo. "The West is dictating a deal... Are we a testing ground for the West?"

He said the two sides are deadlocked, and that a new U.N. initiative is in the works in which a unity government would shepherd the country toward presidential elections. It was not possible to verify his account.

The lingering dispute has left the country with two de facto governments and plunged public institutions into a state of paralysis. There are two diplomatic missions in Cairo, for example, which give different visas for access to eastern or western Libya.

Al-Serraj, whose council is largely confined to a naval base in Tripoli, has begun holding Cabinet meetings despite not having parliament's approval, angering the authorities based in the eastern town of Bayda.

The international community does not recognize al-Thinni's government but does recognize parliament. The parliament views al-Thinni's government as the only legitimate one. A third government, based in Tripoli, has largely acquiesced to the U.N.-backed government's authority.

The leadership crisis has left a vacuum in the rest of the country, still largely ruled by militias with varied loyalties. Abductions and extrajudicial killings are rampant. Protests frequently break out over power outages, cash shortages and the collapse of basic services.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, forces loyal to the eastern government are battling Islamic extremists. Militias loyal to the U.N. government are closing in on the Islamic State affiliate in Sirte, which has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks.

The international community wants to incorporate Libya's various militias into the national army under the leadership of the Tripoli council, which would allow it to lift an arms embargo on the oil-rich country. But the eastern parliament fears losing its authority over the armed forces.

"We are currently in a state of fragmentation," al-Thinni said.

Critics of the eastern government say it includes too many former Gadhafi loyalists, and fear that a powerful army chief in the east, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, wants to bring back autocratic rule. Al-Thinni says it's time for reconciliation.

"Five years now, and we still classify people based on their loyalties," he said. "We have to turn the page of the past."