Egypt says it will host 'reorganization' of Libyan army
CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt said Tuesday it will host the "reorganization" of Libya's army, currently an eastern-based force led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter.
A statement signed by the Egyptian Committee on Libya said that Libyan military officers who met in Cairo recently chose Egypt as a starting point for plans to unify the army.
The group, chaired by Egypt's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy, did not say which officials took part in the meeting, or provide further details.
A Libyan officer welcomed the initiative, thanking the Egyptian army "for facilitating such an opportunity for army officers to meet and find common ground."
"The army is open to discussion with all parties excluding terrorist organizations," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief reporters. "The army doesn't recognize any unofficial armed group but has opened discussions in the hope that militias will disband and join as individuals."
Libya sank into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It is split between rival parliaments, governments and militias in the east and west, but in late July its rival leaders pledged to cooperate. Egypt has backed Hifter in his conflict with the Tripoli government and associated militias.
The Egyptian statement said the Libyan officers pledge to maintain Libya's territorial integrity and create a modern and inclusive, civil democratic state based on a peaceful transfer of power.
Instability and banditry in the oil-rich country has turned it into a haven for people trafficking and migration to Europe.
Italy last month reached a verbal agreement with the country's western government, led by the internationally recognized but weak Fayez Serraj, to provide equipment, boats and salaries to militias working to stop the flow of migrants.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution welcoming recent efforts to bring opposing sides together, with Secretary General Antonio Guterres saying that the time is right for mediation to restore peace.
Hifter supporters meanwhile have been gathering signatures to a petition urging him to run the country for the coming four years.
One of the movement's founders, Mohamed Juma, said that a million signatures had been gathered over the past ten days, mostly at physical locations but also electronically. There was no way to independently verify the number of signatures.
Hifter has modeled himself after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a close ally who led the Egyptian military's overthrow of an elected Islamist president in 2013 amid mass protests that were preceded by a similar campaign.
Associated Press writer Rami Musa in Benghazi, Libya, contributed to this report.