Be ready for Libya military intervention, says France

Be ready for Libya military intervention, says France
French diplomats say the international community must be willing to support Libya's unity government with troops if necessary, as it attempts to assert its authority in Tripoli.
4 min read
01 April, 2016

Libya's unity government

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Friday urged the international community to prepare to help Libya's unity government if asked, providing military support if necessary.

The country's UN-backed unity government is trying to assert its authority in Tripoli, but the sudden arrival of a new prime minister-designate has drawn fury from the unrecognised body in charge of the capital.

"Libya is a concern shared by all the countries of the region and beyond," Ayrault said in comments to a French newspaper.

"The chaos which reigns there today aids the rapid development of terrorism. It is a direct threat to the region and to Europe," he said.

While Islamic State group militants are being pushed back in Syria and Iraq with the help of international intervention, the extremists are gaining ground in Libya, the foreign minister warned.

"We must be prepared to respond if the national unity government of (prime minister-designate Fayez) al-Sarraj asks for help, including on the military front," he said.

   What's been going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remains the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya is limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya remains torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias change frequently, which only adds to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

Asked specifically on the likelihood of military intervention, Ayrault replied: "That will depend on the legal government. To think of launching airstrikes outside of the political process is not an option."

Libya's unrecognised authorities in control of Tripoli on Wednesday demanded that the head of a UN-backed unity government, Fayez al-Sarraj, leave - just hours after he arrived in the capital.

In a televised address, the head of the Tripoli authorities, Khalifa Ghweil, said Sarraj's government was "illegal", asking him to leave the capital or to "hand himself in".

Ayrault cautioned that the international community must avoid the mistakes of the past, citing military intervention in Iraq.

"That upset the region and brought about extremism and [IS]," he said.

Libya has had two rival administrations since mid-2014, when the militia alliance overran Tripoli, setting up its own authority and forcing the internationally recognised parliament to flee to the country's remote east.

International leaders, increasingly alarmed by the rise of extremists and people-smugglers in the North African state, have called on Libya's political rivals to back the unity government.

The United States and its European allies have threatened action against those who undermine the political process.

Meanwhile, ten Libyan cities that had been under control of the non-recognised government of Tripoli have broken away and pledged their support to the UN-backed government, one of the municipalities announced online.

The news is a major blow to the unrecognised authority in Tripoli that is refusing to give up power.

The announcement came in a statement on the official Facebook page of the Sabratha municipality on Thursday, after a meeting between representatives from the 10 coastal cities in the west of Libya located between Tripoli and the border with Tunisia.

The statement called on all Libyans to "support the national unity government" and welcomed the arrival of prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj along with several members of his cabinet to the capital.

The group also asked the internationally recognised government to "put an immediate end to all armed conflicts across Libya".