UN envoy to Libya Tarek Mitri is urging militias who have threatened to use force to disband the interim parliament to use dialogue to hold elections “at the earliest possible.”
Yesterday’s statement by Mitri came as a long-running political crisis came to a head. Many in Libya are angered that the parliament has extended its mandate and two commanders of powerful militias issued an ultimatum on Tuesday to lawmakers to resign or face arrest. The head of parliament has accused the militias of an attempted coup.
Mitri says he met with the two commanders and appealed to them to “give a chance for political dialogue about holding general elections at the earliest possible.”
He said that the use of force “threatens the stability of Libya and the political process.”
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said late on Tuesday a “compromise” had been reached with the ex-rebel militias.
Zeidan said the deadline had been extended by 72 hours, but did not give further details of the compromise, telling journalists only that “wisdom has prevailed” after discussions with representatives from the militias, the assembly and the UN.
The potential crisis arose exactly three years after the start of the Arab Spring uprising that toppled late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, but left the sprawling North African country with a weak central government that has struggled to impose order on former rebel brigades.
The commanders of the Zintan militias had said in a televised statement that they were giving the assembly five hours to “hand over power,” pointing to a Feb. 7 end of its mandate that it had extended.
“Any member of Congress who stays will be... a legitimate target and will be arrested, then judged,” they said.
However, the deadline passed with no action taken by the militias and Zeidan — who himself was kidnapped and briefly held by armed men last year — announced the enigmatic “compromise.”
The ultimatum had triggered a meeting between Metri and the militias’ commanders.
“I asked them to give a chance to political dialogue on the basis of general elections being held,” Metri said.
The speaker of the General National Congress, Nuri Abu Sahmein, had earlier rejected the militias’ ultimatum, calling it “a coup d’etat.”
He said the army had been ordered to act against the militias, though no unusual troop movements were observed in the capital.
The Zintan militias issuing the ultimatum included the al-Qaaqaa and al-Sawaiq brigades, two of the most powerful and well-disciplined militias in the country.
Zintan, in the mainly Berber highlands southwest of Tripoli, was one of the bastions of the NATO-backed uprising that ended the four-decade rule of Qaddafi.