April 29, 2020 / 10:12 PM / 25 days ago

Eastern Libyan forces pause operations after military setbacks

(This April 29 story corrects paragraph 8 to show Human Rights Watch accused UAE not LNA over factory strike, adds line to say neither commented on report)

TUNIS (Reuters) - Libya’s eastern-based forces will cease fire for Ramadan, their spokesman said on Wednesday, after they suffered setbacks during weeks of intense fighting against the internationally recognised government.

Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Ahmed Mismari said in a television broadcast that the ceasefire came at the request of the international community and “friendly countries”.

Both the LNA and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) have already said twice this year that they would stop fighting, but there was a sharp escalation in warfare last month.

Libya has been split since 2014 between the GNA in Tripoli and some other areas of the northwest, and a parallel administration based in Benghazi in the east.

LNA commander Khalifa Haftar launched a war a year ago to capture Tripoli, but pro-GNA forces have this month taken back several areas with Turkish military support, particularly through drones that have targeted eastern supply lines.

The LNA, which is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt, has for weeks been shelling the capital in a campaign of bombardment that has drawn repeated rebukes from the United Nations.

Hospitals in parts of Tripoli held by the GNA have repeatedly been hit by shelling in recent weeks, despite the threat to Libya posed by the coronavirus.

Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday the UAE had last year targeted a biscuit factory with a drone strike in support of the LNA, killing eight civilians in an attack it called “apparently unlawful”. The UAE and LNA have not commented on that report.

There was no immediate GNA response to the LNA’s declaration of a ceasefire, but Mismari said the eastern-based forces would reserve the right to respond to attacks. Ramadan, Islam’s holy fasting month, began last week.

It comes at a moment of political uncertainty in the eastern camp, with Haftar declaring on Monday that the army would take power and ripping up a 2015 political agreement that has been the basis for all international peacemaking efforts.

Egypt and Russia, two of the LNA’s main supporters, have declined either to endorse or reject the move, with Haftar having yet to spell out how the new government would operate or what relation it would have to the eastern-based parliament.

Haftar is already widely regarded as controlling eastern Libya despite the nominal governance of a civilian administration.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that “we do not approve of the statement that now field marshal Haftar will alone decide how the Libyan people will live,” but tempered his remarks with criticism of the GNA.

Egypt, which sees Haftar as a bulwark against their common enemy the Muslim Brotherhood, stressed the necessity of a political solution to Libya’s conflict.

The UAE has not yet made any official comment on Haftar’s seizure of power.

Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Cooney

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