CAIRO (AP) — A Libyan commander whose forces are fighting to take the country’s capital of Tripoli from militias allied with a U.N.-backed government based there has dismissed an initiative by its prime minister for negotiations to end the crisis.
Instead, Khalifa Hifter, vowed in comments to a news website on Wednesday that his fighters would press on with the weeks-long offensive until Tripoli is rid of what he described as “terrorist militias.”
“Our military operations will not stop” until Tripoli is taken, Hifter told almarsad.co.
In April, Hifter’s self-styled Liberation National Army from eastern Libya and loyal to a rival, east-based government, launched the offensive which has been widely criticized by the U.N. and aid agencies. Hundreds have been killed so far in the violence, mainly combatants but also civilians, and thousands have been displaced.
Hifter’s campaign has also raised fears of another bout of violence after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, the country has sunk into chaos, with rival administrations in the east and the west, and an array of forces and militias allied with either side.
On Monday, the World Health Organization reported the latest casualty tolls for the fighting in and around Tripoli, saying 691 people have been killed so far, including 41 civilians, and 4,012 wounded, 135 of them civilians.
The head of the Tripoli-based government, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj told a news conference Sunday he is proposing a “Libyan forum,” aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The talks would draw up a roadmap for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held before the end of 2019, al-Sarraj said. He didn’t say whether he wanted Hifter’s side represented but stressed the talks should not include “autocratic forces” — an apparent reference to the commander.
In his remarks to the news website, Hifter dismissed al-Sarraj’s initiative and criticized him as an ineffective leader.
“Initiatives have no meaning unless they are brave and carry clear clauses that address the causes of the crisis and its very roots,” Hifter said.
Hifter has presented himself as someone able to restore stability. In recent years, his campaign against Islamic militants across Libya won him growing international support from world leaders who say they are concerned the North African country has turned into a haven for armed groups, and a major conduit for migrants bound for Europe.
But his opponents view him as an aspiring autocrat and fear a return to one-man rule.