Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) has set March 17 as a deadline for African forces to leave the Libyan territory on grounds that they play a mercenary role in the conflict opposing rival armed groups in the country.
In the unexpected announcement made Thursday, the eastern-based army aligned to the House of Representatives (HoR) said it will grant no more than nine days for all African forces in the southern part of the country to leave. The LNA threatened to use force after the nine-day deadline, reported Acharq Al Awsat daily on its website.
According to the media, Haftar warned all combatants coming from neighboring African countries against taking “part in illegal militias seeking to destabilize security and stability of southern Libya.”
“They are required to leave the Libyan territories immediately and return to their countries of origin,” he said in a statement, adding that the deadline for Africans to exit is set for March 17.
“After that date, all military means will be used to remove them,” Haftar was quoted by Acharq Al awsat as saying.
The army leadership also called on elders and southern clerics to contact “military security rooms and report all those who provide protection, shelter, or assistance to African migrants in any way that would undermine the security of the southern region of Libya.”
The ultimatum was issued amidst armed clashes between the LNA and the GNA-aligned forces composed of militias, in the city of Sabha (750 km to the south of capital Tripoli). Armed clashes have been continuing for the second week in a row.
The city mayor, Hamed Rafa Al-Khayali, told Turkish news agency Anadolu, Sabha has been festered by foreign armed groups.
According to other press reports, forces from neighboring Chad have been identified as foreign intruders fighting Haftar forces.
Haftar’s forces have been jeopardizing the GNA efforts to extend its influence across the oil-rich North African country. Both sides have been since Saturday clashing in and around Sabha, which answers to the GNA.
Fighting in the southern Sabha district has raised fears of escalating violence in the impoverished South, where LNA forces are trying to expand influence through pushing against groups allied with the internationally recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.