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Libya’s Fragile Truce Clouded Further by Fresh Assaults

Taylan Bilgic and Mohammed Abdusamee

(Bloomberg) -- Libya’s internationally recognized government said Sunday that repeated attacks by rival commander Khalifa Haftar have rendered a fragile truce all but meaningless, as the United Nations warned that foreign powers were setting the stage for even more fighting in the OPEC nation.

The Tripoli government said that its forces had repelled an attack by Haftar’s Libyan National Army around 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of the city of Misrata. “We affirm, once again, that we did not start this war, but it is us who will determine its duration and where it ends,” the government said on its official Volcano of Anger Facebook page.

Repeated violations of the truce mean the cease-fire is now no better than the lack of one, it said.

Ahmed Mismari, a spokesman for Haftar, said in a press conference, “Our operations are preemptive and a message to the militias. It’s not a violation to the cease-fire agreement.”

Dueling Accusations

Both sides have repeatedly accused the other of breaching the cease-fire, which they agreed to earlier this month. A conference in Berlin, convened by Germany’s chancellor, had sought to cement the deal and pave the way for an end to what has become a proxy war of regional powers in the North African nation. However, the United Nations on Saturday said none of the parties involved in the Berlin conference --- which also grouped Turkey, Russia and Egypt -- was honoring terms of the deal.

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The conflict has battered Libya’s crucial oil output, dragging it down to 284,000 barrels a day as a result of “illegal blockades,” the state-run National Oil Corp. said on Twitter. The country holds Africa’s largest crude reserves, and NOC said it was pumping 1.22 million barrels a day until it declared force majeure on Jan. 18.

“This fragile truce is now threatened by the ongoing transfer of foreign fighters, weapons, ammunition and advanced systems to the parties by member states, including several who participated in the Berlin Conference,” the UN mission said in a statement. “The mission condemns these ongoing violations, which risk plunging the country into a renewed and intensified round of fighting.”

An attempt to bring the Libyan rivals to the table failed in Moscow earlier this month when Haftar left Russia without signing a permanent cease-fire. That refusal was backed by the U.A.E. and Egypt, which oppose Turkish gains in Libya, including a maritime agreement supporting Turkey’s claims to gas-rich Mediterranean waters.

Turkey’s Doubts

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has dispatched military advisers, armed drones and Syrian militiamen, has cast doubt on Haftar’s commitment to peace -- claims which have been dismissed as self-serving by Egypt and other Arab states.

In his latest rebuke, Erdogan said Sunday that he didn’t expect Haftar to respect the truce. “Haftar fled Moscow and hid in a hotel in Berlin,” he said. “It’s not possible to expect mercy about a truce from such a person.”

Mismari, the Haftar spokesman, called Erdogan’s comments provocative and possibly aimed at breaking the cease-fire.

Turkey’s deployment sought to bolster the Tripoli-based government against Haftar, whose push on Tripoli has increasingly been spearheaded by Russian mercenaries.

(Adds Haftar spokesman in paragraphs 4 and 11.)

--With assistance from Samer Khalil Al-Atrush.

To contact the reporters on this story: Taylan Bilgic in Istanbul at tbilgic2@bloomberg.net;Mohammed Abdusamee in Tripoli at mabdusamee@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Riad Hamade at rhamade@bloomberg.net, Bruce Stanley, Tarek El-Tablawy

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