By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI (Reuters) – Authorities at Libya’s Misrata airport on Sunday seized a Libyan Airlines aircraft operating from Benghazi in the east of the country, the airline’s Benghazi management said.
The aircraft was seized in the western city of Misrata, east of the capital Tripoli, after it flew there for maintenance from Benghazi’s Benina airport.
The carrier’s Benghazi spokesman, Ezzedine al-Mashnoun said the only plane operated by Libyan Airlines – Benghazi Administration was seized during maintenance.
Mashnoun said the incident was causing serious disruption to the flight schedule. The plane operates three flights to international destinations daily.
“The problem was fixed by the company’s engineers at Misrata airport and after preparing the plane for take-off, it was stopped by Hussain Ballaou, the assistant manager of Misrata airport,” the carrier said in a statement on Facebook.
A spokesman for the eastern-based Libyan administration said the authorities in eastern Libya have given Misrata airport hours to return the plane or “they must take responsibility for other escalatory measures in their airspace.”
Authorities from the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Misrata and Tripoli were not immediately available for comment.
Libya has been split between rival camps based in Tripoli and the east since 2014, a result of the divisions that surfaced when Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in a NATO-backed uprising three years earlier.
The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) force, led by Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive in April for control of the capital and has been battling forces aligned with the Tripoli government.
On Thursday, eastern Libyan authorities had forced a civilian flight to land for security checks soon after it had taken off from the western city of Misrata.
The 90-minute stoppage of this Libyan Airlines flight underlined the warring sides’ competition for control of Libya’s institutions and infrastructure – part of a rift that has frustrated U.N.-led peace efforts.
Tripoli’s only functioning airport, Mitiga, has been shut since the beginning of September after it was hit by air strikes and shelling. Flights have been redirected to Misrata and are due to return to Tripoli after maintenance is completed at its main terminal.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi; Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Writing by Yousef Saba. Editing by Jane Merriman)