This image grab taken from a video on April 28, 2020 shows military strongman Khalifa Haftar giving a speech, saying he had “a popular mandate” to govern the country. – AFP

TRIPOLI: Libya’s UN-recognized government has protested over what it said was an unauthorized overflight of territory under its control by a French-built Rafale warplane. The Rafale and a refueling aircraft had flown over Misrata, 200 kilometers east of Tripoli, and Abu Grein, a combat zone further east, the Government of National Accord’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The French foreign ministry indicated to us that it would contact the French defense ministry and give us details,” the GNA said.

The GNA, which added it had voiced its “displeasure” over the incident, did not specify if the Rafale was operated by the French armed forces or another country’s military. The North African nation has been gripped by chaos since the 2011 ouster and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with rival administrations in the east and west vying for power. France has repeatedly denied supporting eastern military strongman General Khalifa Haftar in his battle to dislodge the Tripoli-based GNA since April last year.

Ramadan truce
Meanwhile, Libya strongman Khalifa Haftar said his forces would cease hostilities for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following international calls for a truce in the war-torn country. “The commander general announces the halting of military operations from his side,” a spokesman for Haftar, who controls swathes of eastern and southern Libya, said from the eastern city of Benghazi.

Haftar’s rival, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) had yet to respond, and an AFP correspondent reported hearing explosions in the centre of the capital Tripoli after the announcement. The call for a truce during Ramadan, which began in Libya on April 24, came in response to “appeals from friendly nations,” the Haftar spokesman said.

He warned violations by the GNA would be met with an “immediate and harsh response.” Last week, the UN, EU and several countries called for both sides to lay down their arms during the holy month. The announcement comes after pro-Haftar forces suffered a series of setbacks in recent weeks, with GNA forces ousting them from two key coastal cities west of Tripoli. Backed by Turkey, GNA troops are now encircling Haftar’s main rear base at Tarhunah, 60 kilometers southeast of the capital.

Since launching an offensive to seize Tripoli last April, several cease-fires between Haftar’s forces and the GNA have fallen through, with both sides accusing the other of violations. Haftar’s opponents accuse him of wanting to establish a new military dictatorship in the country. On Monday he claimed he had “a popular mandate” to govern, declaring a key 2015 political deal over and vowing to press his assault to seize Tripoli. The oil-rich North African nation has been gripped by chaos since the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Turkey to ‘defend’ Tripoli
In another development, Turkey has accused Libya’s strongman Khalifa Haftar of seeking to “create a military dictatorship” and vowed to “defend” the government in Tripoli. The oil-rich North African nation has been mired in chaos since the ouster and killing of long-time dictator Gaddafi in 2011, with rival administrations in the east and west vying for power.

Haftar, who controls swathes of eastern Libya and in April last year launched an offensive to seize Tripoli, said on Monday that his self-styled army had “accepted the will of the people and its mandate”. Turkey’s foreign ministry denounced the claim. “With this announcement, Haftar has once again demonstrated that he does not seek a political solution to the crisis in Libya, does not support international efforts in this regard… and aims to create a military dictatorship in the country,” it said.

Turkey backs Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord in the capital Tripoli, and has dispatched troops and pro-Turkish Syrian fighters there. The ministry urged the international community to “respond, without further delay, to this person, who undoubtedly exposed his intention to establish a junta regime in Libya.” And it assured in a statement that Turkey would “definitely continue to stand by the brotherly Libyan people in defending the Government of National Accord and all other legitimate institutions of Libya.”- Agencies