Libya’s rival government in Tripoli declared a state of emergency midnight Thursday amid reports four members of the United Nations-backed unity government had entered the capital.
In a statement, the so-called National Salvation Government in Tripoli said it had tasked security forces loyal to mobilize and increase its presence on the streets. “The Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, intelligence agencies and all revolutionary brigades are instructed to take all necessary measures to intensify patrols to ensure security,” the statement read. It added that the cabinet was in a permanent session.
Libya Channel’s correspondent reported tight security on the streets of the capital, including tanks and vehicles with heavy weaponry in several neighborhoods.
Prior to the announcement some media had reported that four members of the UN-backed Government – Ahmed Maitig, Fathi al-Majbari and Abdessalam Kajman and Mohamed al-Ammari – had arrived in Palm City, a luxury residential compound west of the capital that has been proposed as headquarters. Sources within the Presidency Council of the unity government – which is currently operating from Tunis – told Libya Channel the reports were incorrect.
But it came after Prime Minister-designate Faiez Serraj said he would be in Tripoli “ within days” despite the fact that his government has not been officially endorsed by the House of Representatives, Libya’s internationally-recognized parliament in Tobruk. According to the UN-authored peace plan, signed by rival factions in Skhirat, Morocco in December, the unity government must be approved by the HoR. But after the latter repeatedly failed to hold a vote since the Presidency Council made its second cabinet proposal in mid February international stakeholders have grown increasingly impatient and seem willing to move ahead regardless.
“Unfortunately HoR members weren’t able to hold the vote [on the GNA] for different reasons,” Serraj recalled in an exclusive interview on Libya Channel last week, referring to voting sessions on February 22 that ended in turmoil. The following day, a document of approval signed by 101 HoR members – a large enough majority to push through the UN government, was presented as proof that Parliament had given the GNA the green light. “They tried a second time but didn’t reach the required quorum”, he added.
“We cannot wait any longer – it has been three weeks and the HoR has not held its session…we will soon be in Tripoli to carry out our work,” Serraj said. UN Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler has backed Serraj’s statement saying that the unity government would be in Tripoli within days.
On Wednesday, however, the UN envoy said he himself was prevented from entering the county. “Again had to cancel flight to tripoli. wanted to help pave the way to pc in tripoli capital of libya. UN must have the right to fly tripoli”, Kobler tweeted, seemingly in anger.
The office of Tripoli’s Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell said authorities there had asked Kobler for an agenda for his visit but had not received a reply and therefore had not granted permission for him to land.
The political tug-of-war comes amid heightened tensions in Tripoli which over the past two weeks has been rocked by clashes between rival armed groups within coalition Libya Dawn. The clashes appear to have been unrelated to the political crisis, although armed groups are divided over the planned power handover.
Last week, a grouping of mainly western Libyan militias, the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room or LROR, threatened the GNA if it went ahead with plans to move into Tripoli. “We are ready to fight a long war against any side that tries to bring the GNA into Tripoli and anyone who tries to protect the GNA”, said the statement signed by “the founders of the LROR”.
On Thursday, a group of Tripoli commanders confirmed the message when they announced the formation of a new operations room to foil any attempts by the GNA to seize power. Tellingly, the statement was made live on TV from Khalifa Ghwell’s office.
GNA opponents have also been working hard to present a political alternative to the UN-backed peace plan, which they describe as a “violation of Libya’s sovereignty”.
The so-called Libyan-Libyan dialogue, initiated last December and endorsed by the heads of both Libya’s rival parliaments, formed the so-called “Committee 21”, which includes seven representatives from each of Libya’s historical provinces, Fezzan, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.
After the Committee’s first meeting on January 4, the negotiators made their first official announcement on Tuesday. It called on the international community to back their initiative saying that their peace efforts have been “violated in the Skhirat agreement that failed and was far from what the Libyan people aspired for.”
“We emphasize the necessity to take urgent concrete steps towards implementing the political solution presented by Committee 21 and those who refuse to respond to this will carry a historical responsibility toward the Libyan people,” it told.