Documents published by the government show the illegal seizure of state land and property by the Military Investment Committee, a shady financial authority under warlord Khalifa Haftar.

A Libyan woman carries an anti-Haftar poster during a demonstration to demand an end to his offensive against Tripoli on December 27, 2019.
A Libyan woman carries an anti-Haftar poster during a demonstration to demand an end to his offensive against Tripoli on December 27, 2019. (Reuters Archive)

Warlord Khalifa Haftar has illegally seized lands and properties belonging to the Libyan state.

The documents published on Monday revealed that the warlord had illegally seized assets of agricultural projects and investment projects in Libya.

Libya's internationally recognised government, or the Government of National Accord, earlier revealed that Haftar's Military Investment and Public Works Commission had signed an agreement with the Union of Italian Fishing in March 2019 under which Italian fishing boats were allowed to fish in Libya's territorial waters in return for $11,100 a month for five years.

In order to bankroll Haftar's war initiatives, the Commission, a shady fiscal authority with sprawling illegitimate reach, has employed a range of actions: from extortion and seizing personal properties to smuggling fuel illegally. 

The Commisssion was started in 2016 but truly picked up steam in 2017, and was said to be worth over $1 billion.

In 2016, French daily Le Monde published a report showing Haftar's monopoly of economic activities in Barqah in eastern Libya. 

The report said most of the land is located in the western city of Benghazi.

READ MORE: Access to Libya's oil

ICC has 'credible information' on mass graves

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has received "credible information" regarding 11 "alleged" mass graves in Libya containing men, women and children, the court’s chief prosecutor said on Monday.

"These findings may constitute evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity," said Fatou Bensouda of The Hague-based court of the information.

Following the liberation of territories once held by warlord Haftar’s militants in the city of Tarhuna and its surroundings, many mass graves were unearthed, and Libyan officials urged international judicial authorities to take action.

"I call on the Libyan authorities to take all the necessary measures to protect and secure the mass grave sites and to ensure that all actions taken in this regard are conducted in a manner that will not prejudice future investigations," she said.

Bensouda also praised a decision by Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, offering support in this regard, adding that ICC looks forward to cooperating with the Libyan authorities, the UN, and all relevant partners working to investigate this "evidence of potential atrocity crimes" in Tarhuna.

"In addition, I reiterate my concern at the grave escalation of violence and the high numbers of civilian casualties, reportedly largely resulting from airstrikes and shelling operations."

She called on all parties and armed groups involved in Libya to fully respect the rules of international humanitarian law.

Efforts to retake Sirte, Jufra from Haftar

The GNA, with Turkish support, has been preparing to recapture the strategic coastal city of Sirte, seized by Haftar's militias in January, and the Jufra region further south.

Sirte opens the gate to potentially seize control of vital oil installations, terminals and oil fields that tribes allied with Haftar shut down earlier this year, cutting off Libya's major source of income.

"It serves the interests of all brothers and friends to return Sirte and Al Jufra to the control of the state," defence ministry undersecretary Salah Al Namroush said in a statement.

"We expect from all brothers and friends to support the legitimate government to achieve stability on the entire Libyan territory," he said.

From Gaddafi to Haftar

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a Western-backed civil war toppled long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. 

The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

The eastern-based illegal militia of Haftar launched an offensive to try to take Tripoli in April last year. The chaos has steadily worsened as foreign backers have increasingly intervened, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.

Haftar’s militias are backed by France, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia. Turkey, on the other hand, backs the UN-backed Tripoli government.

In March, the Libyan government launched Operation Peace Storm against Haftar to counter attacks on the capital and recently regained strategic locations, including Tarhuna, Haftar's final stronghold in western Libya.

READ MORE: How many times has Haftar broken peace initiatives in Libya?

Sisi warns of military 'intervention'

Libya's UN-recognised government denounced Egypt President Abdel Fattah el Sisi's warning of military intervention, saying this would be considered a "threat to national security."

"We strongly reject what was said by al Sisi and consider it a continuation of the war on the Libyan people, interference in Libyan affairs and a dangerous threat to national security," said Mohammed Amari Zayed, a member of the Tripoli-based government's presidential council.

On Saturday, Sisi, said Egypt could intervene in neighbouring Libya with the intention of protecting its western border with the oil-rich country, and to bring stability, including establishing conditions for a ceasefire, to Libya.

Sisi warned that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra airbase by forces loyal to the UN-supported government in Tripoli would amount to crossing a "red line."

"Any direct intervention by Egypt has become internationally legitimate, whether under the UN charter on self-defence or based on the sole legitimate authority elected by the Libyan people: the Libyan parliament," Sisi said. 

"Let's stop at this (current) front line and start negotiations to reach a political solution to the Libyan crisis," he said.

READ MORE: Can Sisi win Haftar’s war in Libya? Not likely

Turkey's intervention 

Ankara's intervention in Libya led to a sudden shift in front lines this month as Libya's forces pushed back Haftar's militias and its allies from most of northwest Libya towards the central coastal city of Sirte.

Libya's Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj and warlord Khalifa Haftar have returned to ceasefire talks, but the United Nations, which is brokering their discussions, has warned of a possible major escalation due to the flow of weapons and fighters into Libya despite an arms embargo.

The Libyan army recently inflicted heavy blows on Haftar and liberated Tarhuna, in addition to other strategic locations, including Al Watiya airbase, from his militias.

READ MORE: Erdogan says Turkey to increase support for Libya's Sarraj

Source: TRTWorld and agencies