AP Interview: New Libya FM favors political solution in Tripoli, military solution in Benghazi
CAIRO (AP) -- Libya's newly appointed foreign minister said Thursday that he hopes to see a negotiated solution to the standoff in the capital, Tripoli, where Islamist-allied militias have taken over the city and forced out the elected lawmakers.
The dramatic developments have further mired Libya in its worst turmoil since Moammar Gadhafi's ouster in 2011, with the country deeply fractured and having two rival governments and parliaments.
Foreign Minister Mohamed Dayri, who assumed his post in late September, said he hopes mediation efforts by U.N. special representative, Bernardino Leon, would produce a political power-sharing agreement.
The deal would demilitarize the capital and allow Dayri's internationally recognized government to begin functioning normally, he said.
"We are seeking a settlement," Dayri told The Associated Press at his family's home in Cairo. "The political track should be enough to bring us back to Tripoli."
However, he was less optimistic on Benghazi, where a different set of Islamist militias have taken control since August.
The militias there have been implicated in a series of assassinations and attacks on journalists, activists, and security forces. One of the main Benghazi-based militias, Ansar al-Shariah, is implicated in the deadly September 2012 assault on the U.S. Consulate that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Libyan army troops and pro-government fighters under the command of former Army Gen. Khalifa Haftar recently launched a campaign to retake Benghazi and claim to be making advances into the city.
There seems to be no hope but to retake Benghazi by force, Dayri said.
"Benghazi is different," Dayri said. "The fight in Benghazi is against radical elements who have been assassinating civilians and military personnel since 2012 and who have been putting law and order in jeopardy."
"In Tripoli, there is strife relating to power and resources. There, we would not like to pursue a military solution," he added.
The internationally recognized Libyan parliament, elected in June, has been meeting in the eastern city of Tobruk - far from the battlegrounds of Tripoli and Benghazi - but holds little sway on the domestic scene.
Meanwhile, a former parliament continues to meet in Tripoli, backed by the occupying militias from the coastal city of Misrata. That assembly claims the elected parliament is illegitimate because it never came to the capital to formally assume power.
Key in the U.N.-mediated negotiations, Dayri said, would be the presence of 30 elected lawmakers who remain sympathetic to the Tripoli militias and have refused to join their colleagues in Tobruk.
If these lawmakers joined the negotiations, it could help pave the way for a "government of national unity," which is what Libya needs, Dayri said.
Dayri also countered recent statements by officials who said that Egyptian warplanes bombed militia positions in Benghazi. Two Egyptian officials, with firsthand knowledge of the operation, told The AP that the operation was requested by the internationally recognized Libyan administration in Tobruk.
But Dayri categorically denied the involvement of Egyptian planes or that such a request had been made, saying only Libyan planes were being used in the fighting, with Libyan pilots flying them.
"We are not seeking direct involvement by Egypt or the Emirates or any other nation," he said. "Our valiant army officers are capable of doing the job - with the help of the communities and the tribes who are behind this effort."