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Libyan rivals split over army leadership: Tripoli parliament head

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan factions involved in U.N.-brokered peace talks are still far apart on the issue of the leadership of a future national army, the head of one of two rival parliaments said on Monday.

Abdulrahman Swehli said delegations from both the Tripoli State Council that he leads and from a parliament based in eastern Libya were “almost there” on agreeing the structure and selection process for a new transitional government.

The aim is to form an administration to rule until elections expected late next year and help the country climb out of years of chaos that have severely disrupted oil production and created a security vacuum that has destabilized the region.

But there was still disagreement over the military and the role of Khalifa Haftar, a commander whose forces dominate eastern Libya, Swehli told Reuters in an interview.

The United Nations is trying to revive a deal struck in late 2015 to end the conflict that spread after the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

Control of the military and the role of Haftar has long been a sticking point. Haftar and his supporters have rejected an internationally recognized government that was set up in Tripoli in 2016.

The eastern parliament is aligned with Haftar, who has expanded his power with support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, taking control of Benghazi after a three-year military campaign earlier this year.

“The obstacle now is mostly about the military and how it will be run and who will be in control,” Swehli said.

“Our position is that we need a united, professional military solution, we need a Libyan army... under civilian control. We should not concentrate on personalities of who wants to lead that army.”

“The other side is very clear that they want to carry on with what they have at the moment, which is not good for our democracy.

“We are still far away from each other.”

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been battling Islamists and former anti-Gaddafi rebels in Benghazi and other parts of the east since 2014.

He is widely assumed to be seeking national power, and has repeatedly hinted at “liberating” the capital from militias which he says control an unelected government there.

Swehli said he considered Haftar’s LNA an “armed organization outside the state”, accusing Haftar and his backers of seeking a return to authoritarian rule.

“We are facing this curse which is yearning for the rule of a strongman,” he said. “Haftar is trying to re-live Gaddafi ... This is what we revolted against in 2011.”

Editing by Andrew Heavens