Monday, August 8, 2016

Libyan unity government protests presence of French troops in Libya without permission

Faiez Serraj, prime minister and head of the Presidency Council (PC) of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), delivered a formal protest to French ambassador Antoine Sivan over the presence of French Forces in eastern Libya.

Three French troops, said to be intelligence officials, died when their helicopter either crashed due to mechanical failure, according to the French version, or was shot down as the Defend Benghazi Brigades (DBB) claim. The brigades were formed back in June and by early July had clashed with the forces of the Libyan National Army under General Khalifa Haftar as they moved towards Benghazi. After the three French soldiers were killed there were retaliatory air raids that killed 13 members of the DBB. The DBB blamed the attacks on the French although the French deny any responsibility. There were protests at the time and there have been numerous others since.
Serraj and the French ambassador met on the sidelines of the Arab summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania.The GNA media office said Serraj formally presented the GNA protest, noting that by the French government's own admission its forces had been involved in Libya. There are other foreign forces involved in Libya from the UK and U.S. among other countries and it appears they are working both for the GNA in the offensive against the Islamic State (IS) in Sirte and in helping the forces of Khalifa Haftar and the HoR government attack Islamists in Benghazi and perhaps in Derna as well. These are not officially acknowledged to be present. Serraj noted that the forces had not been authorized by his administration. He said that such an intervention was unacceptable between sovereign states. He demanded an explanation from Paris as to what the forces were doing in Libya. The French government has claimed that its operatives were monitoring terrorist movements.
However, while Haftar and others may consider the DBB terrorists this is not the view of many Islamist groups who are opponents of Haftar and think of him as a war criminal. Attacking Haftar and defending the Shura Council of Benghazi are no doubt seen by many as a patriotic act. The French explanation makes sense only if you take the Haftar view that Islamist-leaning opponents of his Operation Dignity are all terrorists. The French action is also aiding a group and government that does not recognize the GNA and is an obstacle to Libyan unification. The French ambassador insisted that he fully supported the PC and the GNA and promised a formal note would follow from the French government explaining what had happened. It is somewhat contradictory to fully support the GNA while at the same time supporting a rival regime and armed forces who do not recognize the GNA.
Not everyone in the GNA was opposed to the French intervention. Colonel Mahdi Al-Barghathi, the GNA defence minister defended France. He said France and other countries should be counted on to help Libya fight terrorism. Al-Barghathi, joined Operation DIgnity in 2014, even though he is at odds with Haftar who does not support the GNA or approve of defense minister. He agreed those protesting against French troop presence had a right to do so. He said that the GNA had not authorized the presence of the French agents but the prerogative to do so rested with the HoR. One would think that the GNA as the sole Libyan government, of which he is defense minister, would have the prerogative not a government that does not recognize the GNA! Yet he insisted there was only one government in Libya and it was "stupid, ignorant, and unpatriotic" to try and deny this. Yet it is sensible to insist the unrecognized HoR government has the right to authorize French troops to be in Libya. Reflecting the thinking of those associated with Operation Diignity, Al-Barghathi described the DBB as terrorists with links to Al Qaeda, even though the DBB denies any links to Al Qaeda. Their spiritual leader is the Grand Mufti of Libya who also opposes Haftar. Foreign counter-terror forces Al-Barghathi claims were working against these terrorists. Any other interference such as neo-colonialism he claimed should be resisted. The DBB put out a statement critical of that of the defense minister whom they said paid no attention to the protests of the people, and tried to discredit the group by calling them terrorists and linking them with groups to which they had no connection.

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