Renegade general threatens Benghazi port over arms transfers to Islamists

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Published Monday, September 15, 2014

Forces loyal to former Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi threatened to bomb the eastern city's port unless authorities there closed it to cut off arms supplies to Islamists, a senior commander said on Monday.

Haftar's forces are fighting Islamist groups including Ansar al-Sharia for control of the port city, which is the main entry point for wheat and other food imports into eastern Libya. Haftar emerged as a renegade commander fighting Islamists but has recently entered into a frail alliance with the government.

"We will bomb any ship approaching the coast and hold the port director responsible for it," Saqer al-Jouroushi, Haftar's air defence commander, told Reuters. Ansar al-Sharia had used the port to get ammunition and weapons, he said.

Western powers and Libya's neighbours worry the oil producer will turn into a failed state. A weak government has proven unable to control former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now effectively run the country.

The government has lost control of the capital Tripoli to an armed opposition group from the western city of Misrata forcing senior officials to relocate to Tobruk in the far east.

In Benghazi, special forces have allied themselves with Haftar's forces to fend off Islamist militants which have overrun several army camps and are trying to seize the civilian and military airports.

Libyan PM accuses Qatar of sending planes with weapons to Tripoli

Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said on Sunday Qatar had sent three military planes loaded with weapons to a Tripoli airport controlled by an armed opposition group, accusing a second country of interfering in the lawless oil producer.

The government had already accused Sudan of having tried to arm an Islamist-leaning group which seized Tripoli last month, forcing senior officials and the elected parliament to relocate to the east, part of a growing state of anarchy.

There was no immediate comment from Qatar, a Gulf Arab state which has backed the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement which has some ties to the group now controlling Tripoli.

"Unfortunately they (the planes) reached (Tripoli) Matiga airport," Thinni told UAE-based Arab TV channel Sky News. "We will consider ... breaking off relations if this interference into Libya's internal affairs continued."

"We confirm that we have official reports that these war planes carried weapons and ammunition," he said. "What does Qatar want to give to the Libyan people ?"

Thinni also repeated accusations against Sudan, saying Khartoum had tried sending a military plane loaded with ammunition to Matiga, an airport controlled by the Misrata forces.

The North African country is divided, with a government and elected parliament that have relocated to Tobruk in the far east since losing control of the capital, and a rival assembly and government set up by the Misrata force.

"The Sudanese brothers are trying to interfere in Libya's affairs," Thinni said.

Sudan has confirmed it had sent a plane to the Libyan airport of Kufra but says it was only carrying equipment for a joint Libyan-Sudanese border force.

Thinni said the Qatari military planes had arrived in Matiga before the Sudanese plane was stopped by Libyan forces in Kufra, a desert town near the Sudanese border.

Libya's government is unable to control dozens of former rebel groups who helped topple Gaddafi but now fight each other for power and a share of oil resources. The fluid situation in Tripoli has been worsened by a separate battle between the army and a general who has defected from it, both fighting militant Islamists.

The Islamists, including Ansar al-Sharia, made progress on Sunday in trying to take the airport, the last government bastion in the city, by moving closer, residents said.

Central bank governor ousted

Libya's elected parliament earlier dismissed central bank governor Saddek Omar Elkaber because he had failed to attend a session to discuss alleged financial irregularities, said Faraj Hashem, a spokesman for the House of Representatives.

The central bank has tried to stay out of the political struggle but has been facing demands from both parliaments to approve budget payments. The bank is responsible for booking the country's oil revenues in its accounts. These make up Libya's only source of income for its budget.

The dismissal of Elkaber will leave deputy governor Ali al-Hibri in charge of the central bank until a successor is appointed. Elkaber is currently in Algiers for a conference of Arab central bank directors.

Libya's foreign ministry also recalled its ambassador to Jordan because he had agreed to join a rival government in Tripoli, deputy foreign minister Said al-Aswad said. The government had also recalled its ambassador to Turkey, he said without giving a reason.

(Reuters)

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