By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, a key figure in the future of the troubled North African country, still supports plans for national elections in December but says other players are not fulfilling their part for the vote to take place.
His downbeat comments to Reuters add to growing doubts that a French plan, backed by the United Nations, to hold elections aimed at ending seven years of conflict in the oil producer will go ahead.
Haftar is a dominant figure in the east where his Libyan National Army (LNA) last year seized the second-largest city of Benghazi by expelling Islamist and other fighters.
The 75-year old, in written comments to questions submitted by Reuters, refused to say whether he would run in presidential elections as expected, saying only: “Which elections are you talking about ? When they are announced and the door opened to run for them, you will know the answer.“
Haftar is aligned with a government based in the east and is the main rival of Prime Minister Fayez Seraj who leads a U.N.-brokered transitional government based in Tripoli, the capital.
In May, Haftar, Seraj and the leaders of rival parliamentary assemblies agreed verbally under French mediation in Paris to create a framework for elections.
But weeks of clashes between rival factions in Tripoli, some of which are linked to the U.N.-backed government, have shown the difficulties of organising a vote in a country in chaos.
“The General Command (of the LNA) has not backed down on what it has pledged (regarding elections), and we are ready to play our part in securing elections on the agreed date,” Haftar said in the written response provided by his office.
“But the rest of the parties have breached their commitments … and have not taken any steps to fulfil their role,” he added.
He said the House of Representatives had failed to agree on a constitutional framework by mid-September as planned. The chamber is based in eastern territory controlled by the LNA but is itself badly divided.
For weeks, the HOR has postponed sessions with only few lawmakers showing up. Some have complained about intimidation and violence — one deputy was recently shot in a leg.
“We have now exceeded this date (Sept.16) without any action and without any justification,” Haftar said.
Previous attempts at peace deals have been scuttled by divisions among rival groups and its foreign backers.
Haftar enjoys the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates which are keen on curbing Islamists. He remains popular with those tired of chaos but is seen by others as divisive, especially in western Libya.
Libya slid into lawlessness after the NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew Mummar Gaddafi.
Haftar launched a campaign in May 2014 in Benghazi that lasted three years, styling himself as a military leader capable of restoring order. He enjoys the official title of “field marshal”.
Critics say he wants to resurrect Gaddafi’s former police state, accusations he denies.
Haftar said the situation in Tripoli remained dangerous despite U.N. attempts to establish a truce between armed groups.
The LNA has talked about expanding to Tripoli but this might entail him having to team up with other armed groups in western Libya.
(Writing by Ahmed Elumami and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Richard Balmforth)