Tensions simmer as Libyan ex-rebels demand a role

Former rebel fighters in Libya are raising the stakes by demanding a role in the interim government which is currently being formed, amid rising tensions over the naming of an army chief of staff.

Abdelkarim Belhaj, the former jihadist who heads the military council in the Libyan capital, said on Thursday that a deal had been reached with the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) for civilian ex-rebels to sit in the new cabinet.

The NTC has said a new government led by interim premier Abdel Rahim al-Kib is expected to be announced on Sunday.

Kib has said the new government will be formed of technocrats but pressures from Libya’s tribes and from the various armed factions make his promise a difficult one to keep.

“We have reached an agreement that candidates from the thwar [civilian rebels] will receive certain very specific portfolios,” Belhaj said at a military parade, without elaborating.

Fallen regime
“We hope that these promises will be kept,” added the man Libyan media have spotlighted as a leading candidate for the defence portfolio.

Belhaj, who led the anti-Muammar Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, spent years in prison and has a small army at his disposal. He called for a “strong government with the collaboration of the thwar.”

“It is dangerous to say that the work of the thwar is done” now that the Gaddafi regime has fallen, he added.

“We must be aware of the danger of the next phase … We won the battle on the ground and we are now ready to join the battle for the state, a civil and modern state.”

Belhaj rival Abdullah Naker, who also heads several thousand fighters, on Thursday met regional commanders to denounce the nomination of Khalifa Haftar as chief of staff of the army, which has yet to be officially reconstituted.

Gathering under the banner of “The Union of Thwar in Libya,” they demanded the postponement of a chief of staff being nominated until after the interim government is formed.

Unanimous approval
“We were not consulted about the nomination of a chief of staff. We are competent but they did not give us the chance to put forward our own candidates” for the post, Naker said.

Earlier on Thursday, some 150 officers and sub-officers in the eastern city of al-Baida unanimously approved Haftar’s appointment and announced the army’s reactivation.

Haftar, who comes from the ranks of Benghazi’s military academy and trained in the former Soviet Union, defected from the Gaddafi regime in the 1990s after the Libya-Chad conflict and went to the US.

He returned in March to join the military campaign to unseat Gaddafi.

Naker, who hails from the Nafusa mountains in the west, also demanded a say in the new government for former rebels.

The role of thwar
“The thwar must have a role in the interim government,” he said late on Thursday, adding that what they wanted of the new government was “transparency and non-marginalisation of the thwar.”

“The army chief of staff must be a thwar who fought on the battlefield,” Naker added.

As in other “Arab Spring” nations, Islamists who were suppressed under the former regime now represent Libya’s best-organised and rising political force.

On Thursday, the country’s Muslim Brotherhood met for its first public congress in nearly 25 years in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the rebellion against Gaddafi erupted.

“This is an historic day for us and for the Libyan people,” its leader Suleiman Abdel Kader told Agence France-Presse at the opening of the three-day congress.

The Brotherhood supports the idea of a “civil” state but founded on Islamic values, Abdel Kader said. “This country belongs to all its people and everybody must participate in its construction.” — AFP

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