TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Libya's U.N.-sponsored unity government was gearing up to assume power on Sunday, although major concerns remained over its chances of successfully setting up shop in Tripoli, where some of its security officials were briefly detained and several militias have openly threatened it.
In a statement late Saturday, the Government of National Accord said the majority of the previous, internationally backed government in the country's east had endorsed it, paving the way for it to take up duties as the country's sole governing body.
"Now the government must begin its work and take up its responsibility," said Amhamed Shauib, the deputy head of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. "Our priority is now the security in Tripoli where the government will be operating."
European governments and the United States quickly welcomed the statement, with the State Department describing the new body as "the only legitimate government in Libya," and urging all parties to "act responsibly" and give it full support.
Libya's chaos, five years after the uprising that led to the ouster and killing of longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, has left the country deeply divided and ruled by two parliaments: an internationally recognized body based in the eastern city of Tobruk and a rival government, backed by Islamist-allied militias, that controls the capital, Tripoli. That government rejects the others.
The new government, based in the Tunisian capital for now, was formed after a year of peace talks sponsored by the United Nations between the rivals. The extremist Islamic State group has exploited the years of chaos in Libya and taken control of several cities, which in turn has given new impetus to Western countries and the U.N. to try to piece the country back together.
In a new sign of difficulties on Sunday, security officials said that three members of an advance team sent by the GNA to Tripoli to prepare security for the government's move had been briefly detained two weeks ago and accused of plotting a coup.
"They had been meeting with militias and armed groups in Tripoli behind the Tripoli government's back and they are now under investigation," one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief the press.
Despite the practical challenges, the new government has begun urging financial and state institutions to recognize it exclusively, although it was unclear how and when several including the central bank and investment authority would make the switch.
One early positive sign Sunday was when forces that had been blocking oil production in the main central region said that they would recognize the new government and open the fields.
Col. Mahdi Albargathi, the new government's defense minister, described the country's next steps as "the fight for peace."
"We will do all we can to ensure the end of this war, it is a very huge task and the road is difficult but we don't have an alternative," he said.