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Libya's Haftar urges troops to 'wipe out' military opposition

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Tripoli (AFP)

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive against Tripoli last month, has urged his troops to teach unity government forces an "even harder lesson", as the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan begins.

Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an assault on April 4 aimed at ousting the internationally recognised government from the capital.

That set off another deadly escalation in a country mired in violence since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

In a message late Sunday, Haftar urged his troops to "uproot" opposing forces from "our beloved country".

"Officers and soldiers of our armed forces and affiliates, I greet you during these glorious days and call on you to inflict on the enemy, with your force and determination, an even harder and bigger lesson than before", Haftar wrote in a message read out by LNA spokesman General Ahmad al-Mesmari.

Forces backing the Government of National Accord (GNA) recently launched a counter-offensive against the LNA, leading to a stalemate on the southern outskirts of the capital.

Haftar's message also vowed that "in the event of a retreat by the enemy, troops should pursue it with speed and force, prevent it from fleeing and wipe it out" with support from LNA air forces.

"Respect the lives of citizens and their goods," the message added. "Carry out the orders of this letter and those of your superiors."

The strongman's message came just hours after the United Nations mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for "an extendable one-week humanitarian truce" starting at 4:00 AM (0200 GMT) Monday, to mark the beginning of Ramadan.

- Lawmakers split -

Separately on Sunday, Libya's parliament came a step closer to splintering as 42 dissident lawmakers selected a "provisional" speaker, in opposition to the current speaker Aguila Salah, who is aligned with Haftar.

The parliament, elected in 2014, has been based in eastern Libya since it left Tripoli to escape the control of militias.

But after Haftar launched his offensive, 42 of its 188 deputies decided to boycott parliamentary activity in protest at his military campaign and Salah's ongoing support for Haftar.

The dissident lawmakers last week met in Tripoli, where they declared the war "unjustified".

At a second meeting in the capital on Sunday, they named Sadeq al-Keheli, their most senior member, as "interim" speaker for a 45 day period.

The move "was in order to provide an opportunity for other lawmakers to join us," said rebel deputy Soleiman al-Faqih, adding that some had been unable to do so due to the security situation in Tripoli.

But the 42 members of parliament fell far short of the quorum of 95 attendees required for a session to be valid.

While the eastern parliament has won international recognition, this does not extend to a rival administration backed by both the legislature and Haftar, in opposition to the Tripoli-based, UN-recognised GNA.

But the GNA's status with world powers is increasingly shaky.

US President Donald Trump, in a phone call with the military strongman last month, "recognised Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources", according to the White House.

Closer to home, Haftar is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Since April 4, fighting between the LNA and forces backing the GNA has killed at least 432 people, wounded 2,069 and displaced more than 50,000, according to the UN.

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