East Libyan forces call U.N. envoy 'opponent'

FILE PHOTO: U.N. Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame gestures as he speaks during a news conference after the second day of the international conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - The forces that control eastern Libya regard U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame as an enemy contributing to the North African nation’s violent crisis, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The unusually strong criticism followed the U.N. Libya mission’s expression of “deep concern” about a deployment last week to southern Libya of troops from the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is led by Khalifa Haftar.

Libya has been in conflict and chaos since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with competing governments and armed groups vying for control.

“The fact is that Salame has turned into an opponent ... and has become part of the Libyan crisis,” LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari said, adding that the deployment to the main southern city of Sabha would boost security for populations and oilfields.

“Ghassan Salame should remember that this is a holy national duty and we will not leave Libya to be like Lebanon, a country of militias and multiple authorities,” he told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Salame is from Lebanon.

Mismari said the U.N. official was surrounded by “graduates” of Tora Bora, the Afghan mountain hideout once used by the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The U.N. mission did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Salame has been trying to persuade Haftar and the other major Libya players to hold national elections. Haftar is linked to a eastern parallel government opposing the internationally recognized administration based in Tripoli.

The United Nations has been endeavoring to stabilize Libya since 2011 but has no peacekeeping troops on the ground.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ahmed Elumami; Writing Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne