Thani's Parliament Picks Controversial General as Libyan Army Chief

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A Libyan soldier, loyal to Libya's internationally-recognized government and General Khalifa Haftar, monitors a street from his sniper nest in the eastern coastal city of Benghazi on February 28, 2015. AFP/Abdullah Doma.

Published Monday, March 2, 2015

Former Libyan general Khalifa Haftar was appointed as army commander for the country's internationally-recognized government on Monday, in a decision that may complicate UN talks to end fighting in Libya.

The appointment of Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who later became his enemy and in 2011 joined the revolt against the Libyan leader, is likely to stoke tensions with the Tripoli government, which sees his rise as a sign that the old guard is gaining strength.

Libya has descended into chaos with the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani forced to flee to the country's east and militias in control of Tripoli and other main cities since August.

"The House of Representatives has appointed General Khalifa Belqasem Haftar as top military commander," said Tarek Saqer Juroushi, deputy head of the defense committee at Libya's Western-backed parliament.

He said Haftar had been promoted to lieutenant general, adding that he would be sworn in on Tuesday or Wednesday.

A former general who helped Gaddafi come to power only to fall out with him in the 1980s after Libya-Chad war, Haftar has become one of the most divisive figures in post-Gaddafi era in Libya where he re-emerged on the political stage in 2014.

Last year, he began a war against Islamist militants in Libya’s second biggest city, Benghazi. He gained support from some Libyans, but also criticism for airstrikes and attacks on civilian airports and seaports.

Haftar has merged his irregular forces with army troops in the east to fight disparate Islamist groups. But he has also targeted forces loyal to the Fajr Libya armed faction.

The United Nations is trying to organize peace talks between the rival administrations to defuse the violent power struggle that is threatening to tear apart the North African country.

On February 23, the internationally-recognized government suspended its participation in UN-brokered talk.

A parliamentarian, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to pull out of talks was taken over fears that the international community would exert pressure to include Islamists in a future unity government.

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.

Thani's government was forced to flee to the country's east in June after militias, among them Islamists, seized Tripoli and other main cities.

Some militias have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but the main groups, including the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya coalition, which has been involved in the peace talks, have not done so.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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