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Day After Reopening, Libyan Coastal Road Closes

Libyan Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah attends the reopening of the road between the cities of Misrata and Sirte Sunday, June 20, 2021. Later media reports on June 21, 2021 said the road was closed again.

Arab media are reporting that Libya's coastal highway is closed again, following declarations by the national unity government that the road was now open.

The Tripoli-based government has been pushing hard to reopen the road, arguing that it is a sign of the country’s reunification. Military and political leaders in eastern Libya argue that reopening the road may allow terrorists to flow into their sector.

Arab media reported the highway was closed again as of Monday afternoon, a day after National Unity Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaibeh declared the road had officially been reopened. A video from the Reuters news agency showed Prime Minister Dbaibeh in a tractor Sunday, removing earth from the coastal highway to reopen the road. The road connects the western city of Misrata and Sirte, the hometown of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Gen. Ahmed Almasmari, the spokesman for eastern military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the prime minister and militia forces around Tripoli had overstepped their legal authority, circumventing a 10-person joint military committee authorized to make that decision. The U.N.-appointed committee, known as 5+5, includes an equal number of military officers from both sides.

He said that Unity Prime Minister Dbaibeh tried to go around the committee that has responsibility for deciding whether to open the coastal highway. He argued that a regional militia used bribery to force its reopening.

A bulldozer pushes earth to during a ceremony to reopen the road between the Libya cities of Misrata and Sirte, June 20, 2021. It was later reported closed.
A bulldozer pushes earth to during a ceremony to reopen the road between the Libya cities of Misrata and Sirte, June 20, 2021. It was later reported closed.

A Libyan military official in the town of Sirte, who belongs to the committee, told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that the group was not willing to reopen the road unless and until all security measures have been taken.

Egyptian analyst Said Sadek, now in Tunisia, tells VOA that both Egypt and Turkey have been playing hardball in Libya to prevent the other side from gaining the upper hand. Egypt generally supports General Haftar, but has opened up to the Tripoli government, while Turkey supports the Tripoli government but has made no effort to open up to the military in eastern Libya or those political forces.

"There is tension between Egypt and Turkey," Sadek said. "The Turkish minister of defense and chief of staff and intelligence paid a very big visit to Tripoli and immediately you had the Egyptian intelligence chief visiting Tripoli, and then visiting (eastern military commander Gen. Khalifa) Haftar. So, they are balancing."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sissi said Sunday during a visit by Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al Mangoush that the "security of Egypt is tied to the security of Libya."

He added during a visit to Greece Monday that Cairo is opposed to meddling by outside forces to "manipulate the will of the Libyan people."

He said that Egypt is supporting Libya in its objective to hold elections when they are supposed to be held at the end of this year and opposes any roadblocks that are put up by foreign forces to stop that from happening.

Libya analyst Aya Burweila, who teaches at the Hellenic National Defense College, tells VOA that Prime Minister Dbaibeh, who has now been in office for three months, "has made no appreciable efforts towards fulfilling his duties to expel foreign forces and unify domestic institutions ..."

She said that pushing for the coastal road to open, without the green light from the 5+5 committee, raises concerns that thousands of Syrian mercenaries and Islamist militant groups will make their way to the east to carry out attacks against civilians and the army.

Meanwhile, talks on Libya are set to open later this week in Germany.