Under Muammar Gaddafi, Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij served as Minister for Youth. In 2014, he joined Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s coalition, created to free Benghazi from Daesh* militants.
Sputnik: Good day, Mr Al-Hweij. It has just become known [14 July] that the Libyan National Army launched another attack on Tripoli and that the militia forces are gradually retreating. Can you confirm this information and the fact that Marshal Haftar is advancing on Tripoli?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: Of course, I can confirm this information. This is the goal of the operation launched on 4 April to free Tripoli. I want to highlight that we are talking about an operation and not an attack. The goal is to free the capital from those who captured it. We have no problems with our compatriots in Tripoli.
The army has no intention of controlling, neither Tripoli nor Libya by using force. The sole purpose is to restore the state, security, and stability. That is, to put an end to the chaos with weapons and militia groups, and to promote the development of civil rights and individual freedoms, as well as respect for human rights. As you know, Tripoli is an open-air prison. Even migrants have not been spared.
It’s 2019, the third millennium. Unfortunately, there are still those who are engaged in human trafficking and enslaving our African brothers and sisters. This is a disgrace for Libyans. Moreover, this is not characteristic either of our culture or our way of life. It is for this reason that our operation, the purpose of which is to free Tripoli, continues. That's all.
Sputnik: The international community as a whole, and the African Union in particular, condemned the airstrike inflicted on a migrant camp near Tripoli on 2 July. According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, about 50 people died and more than 100 people were injured. Who benefits from this crime? Did the Libyan National Army really “miss the mark” as was made clear by the Government of National Accord?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: First of all, we would like to express our grief over the deaths of these people and express our condolences to their families. This is a terrible thing and a humanitarian tragedy. Unfortunately, the so-called Fayez al-Sarraj government [the interim government of Libya, formed with the support of the UN Security Council] uses Africans and migrants as human shields and uses these accommodation centres for migrants as armouries.
It means that the army does not know who or what is in these centres. The army determined that these were large, secret arms depots. It goes without saying that we do not want to strike civilians, no matter where they are from. These migrants are our brothers. They are also Africans like us. But the militias have no conscience. They do not comply with moral principles or the law. They force these migrants to wear military uniforms to use them in wars. The existence of such centres is illegal. There are no criteria [for determining what they are].
Sputnik: In other words, it really was a mistake?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: This question is under investigation and there are many ways to confirm it... But in principle, the Libyan National Army and the Libyan government refuse to act against civilians regardless of their nationality. Given that one of the objectives of the operation in Tripoli was the liberation of Africans who are sold on the high seas and who, unfortunately, are becoming fodder for fish. To liberate them is one of our goals.
Sputnik: Moreover, according to a UN report, published on 4 July, “Libyan coastguardsmen opened fire near the Libyan capital Tripoli on migrants who were trying to escape from the Tajoura Camp that was bombed”. The Ministry of Internal Affairs in Tripoli immediately denied this information... Why did migrants in Libya become a target in an “information war” that does not recognise itself as such?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: As for us, we are a responsible government, acting in compliance with international law and international humanitarian law.
We attach great importance to the dignity of every citizen in the regions where we are present.
It is offensive and wrong to compare us with Tripoli in the way we treat migrants. This is an incorrect comparison.
It is not out of political or media concerns, but precisely because we believe that [the correct treatment of migrants] is part of our responsibility and our obligation to others.
Moreover, we do not settle scores with people from countries with which we have difficulties.
For example, we have a lot of problems in relations with Turkey, but Turks live here, acquire property, and work in peace.
We distinguish the political aspect of both legal and humanitarian issues.
At present, there is draft legislation providing for tougher penalties over mistreating migrants that will be submitted to the deputies.
Our reception centres are open to all international organisations.
We, moreover, were convinced of this thanks to a visit by His Excellency, the head of government, to one of the refugee reception centres:
Libyan law says that anyone who has illegally entered the country should be expelled.
We’ve demanded that their position, like that of migrants, be settled so that they could even find a job.
The law clearly states: they must appear before the tribunal and then return to the countries from which they came.
Sputnik: After this tragedy, many humanitarian organisations, in particular, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF), urged “not to use open camps for internees in Libya for holding migrants” as was demanded by the European Union. What do you think, would this be a positive step?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: This is certainly a wrong decision. Migrants suffer from this.
In all cases, whether or not international organisations support us, we will continue to fulfil our obligations according to the capabilities that we have.
We want the Ganfouda Refugee Reception Centre in Benghazi – an exemplary refugee reception centre – to develop.
In addition to the facilities already available, a library will be placed there, trees will be planted, and roses will grow at the entrance. All this will be done to make it even more exemplary.
Of course, we do not want them to remain there forever!
To this end, a government commission has been set up to regulate the situation of foreign workers in Libya.
No one will be kicked out. Those who want to work in Libya will be able to do so, except, perhaps, those who suffer from infectious diseases. We will have to repatriate these individuals.
Sputnik: I am talking about the migrant camps in Tripoli.
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: In Tripoli, there is no government per se! There is a formal government but, unfortunately, the militia and armed groups control the situation.
I would even say that the human trafficking mentioned in the reports (UN reports – ed. note Sputnik) is also taking place in Tripoli.
Yes, unfortunately, even in 2019, these criminals are selling people! Migrants are bought and sold every day, and people die on the high seas.
If to look deeper into this issue, and I speak as an African, not as a Libyan, I would say that migrant security has not been ensured properly with regard to the coast guard on the high seas.
An effective solution would be development. It’s vita that the countries from which migrants come develop.
For Europeans, migrants are a serious problem. As an African, I argue that migration is a challenge and a chance.
About France’s Support
Sputnik: Today is 14 July, a French national holiday. Let me ask you point-blank. Does France support Marshal Haftar and does it supply him with weapons?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: As for the sale of weapons, certainly not. That is not true.
The weapons discovered in Gharyan were delivered in 2011. These weapons have been disabled.
France, being a country of democracy and freedom, would not side with the militia and outlaws.
We want freedom for our brothers in Tripoli. There should be no prisons in Tripoli. We want children in Tripoli not to hear the sound of bullets and salvo fire. We do not want them to see blood and death.
On the contrary, we want them not to know fear.
Today, in 2019, the electricity in hospitals is being cut off for 10-15 hours! We are half a century behind, even though we are a Mediterranean country rich in oil.
Population density is one resident per square kilometre. It is necessary to free the country from these prison wardens and start building a state.
It’s better for Libyans to cast their ballots in boxes rather than into arms depots [a rough translation of a wordplay].
Sputnik: Can one trust France’s Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, who said in an interview with FranceInfo on Friday 12 July that the missiles, found at the base of the Libyan National Army (LNA) at the entrance to Tripoli, were “disabled”? It is hard to believe that “these missiles were stored in a place where they were supposed to be destroyed” and that “they were never transferred to anyone...” Is that really the case?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: Yes. In this matter, she can be trusted!
Sputnik: Then why did your colleague Mohamed Taher Siala, Foreign Minister of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, ask French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to “urgently explain how the French weapons found in Gharyan had fallen into Haftar’s hands; how and when was it delivered? ”
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: He is a poor fellow; he is being dictated as to what to say and what not to say! He himself is unhappy and imprisoned!
As soon as he did not fulfil the demands of the militia, they took on the head of the government, in front of employees, shaved him completely, put him in jail and tortured him, and after three days they returned him to the ministry.
In the ministry, unfortunately, they do what they want. I say this not for political reasons, it’s just about our country and our people.
But democracy and the law do not get along with chaos and militias. And some of them today are diplomats with red passports!
Sputnik: The Former Interim President of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, has repeatedly stated that the "Emirati virus" has already spread to Libya. Is this really true?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: Moncef Marzouki is something like a “phone booth” [anyone can use it – ed. note Sputnik]. He echoes the Qataris who pay him. And he does what his Qatari patrons demand of him.
Unfortunately, it was he who gave up Former Prime Minister of Libya Baghdadi Mahmoudi to the militia.
Regardless of was thought about him, under humanitarian and legal principles, he should not have been given over to militia. The ties [of Moncef Marzouki] with Qatar and the money he receives from Qatar is well known. Tunisians and the whole world know this.
Unfortunately, he’s lost any legitimacy, including moral legitimacy.
Sputnik: By the way, Tunisian diplomacy, as well as some European governments, has for a long time been making efforts to resume “political dialogue” in Libya and “end hostility between rival groups”. Is a dialogue between Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya possible today and should it be held under the auspices of the United Nations?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: There is no partner with whom we can have a dialogue.
But when the capital is freed, we will begin a general national dialogue, we will move towards general national reconciliation, from which no side will be excluded.
Tunisia is a friendly country, a neighbouring country. This country, like other states, plays an important role. We will use its experience of reconciliation and national dialogue.
Moreover, Tunisia was able to solve its problems and establish a secular state (not an Islamic one – ed. note Sputnik)
We are for dialogue, we are against war, but when the capital is liberated from the militia groups and the chaos of weapons, we will be ready for everything, including holding elections and moving towards democracy.
Sputnik: You’re saying that dialogue will not be resumed until a military victory is achieved?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: We are not turning away from dialogue. [We are ready for dialogue] but under the condition that the mediators provide us with the demilitarisation and demobilisation of the Libyan and/or foreign militia...
Why did the army go on the offensive against Tripoli, overcoming more than 1000 kilometres? Why?
Because there is no doubt that we didn’t agree with this sad story continuing. Humiliation, torture, abduction, and crime have lasted for far too long.
We prefer dialogue to sabre-rattling. We welcome those who want to mediate. But first, they must put an end to the militias.
Sputnik: In your opinion, can the UN play this role?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: We will invite the UN, the African Union, and neighbouring countries to participate in the national dialogue and national reconciliation.
But, unfortunately, so far we have not heard of any plan for the demilitarisation of the militias by the UN.
What has the UN done for Libyans who are dying day by day? For the wounded among the Libyan military, dying in hospitals?
For the 50 civilians killed in Gharghour, because they were in favour of a civilian [secular] state?
The UN did not respond to the murder of innocent people who left Rwimi Prison. The 12 young people were dismembered and thrown into the street... The voices of the UN were not heard even when the militias were destroying planes and airports.
We are part of the international community. But Libya must bear its share of the responsibility. The final say belongs to the people... Libyans strive for the same things as all other citizens of the world – for freedom, dignity, without political prison and militia, and for a normal life without fear.
Sputnik: The Arab League's Special Envoy on Libya Salah Eddine al-Jamali also called for more active participation by Russia in the conflict, do you share this opinion? Why?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: Yes. We agree with him on this. Russia is a major state, a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
We want Russia to play a very important role in resolving the Libyan crisis. Given that it has no colonial past, Russia’s participation is welcomed.
I would like it if Russia’s role was more noticeable. Historically, it is a friendly state, with which we maintain strategic and important relations in various spheres.
Sputnik: During a brief visit to Italy in early July, Vladimir Putin expressed concern about the "penetration of hundreds of armed militants into North Africa", in particular to Libya from the de-escalation zone in Idlib in north-western Syria. About three million people are concentrated in this zone, including opposition forces to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Can you confirm at this stage that the government of Turkish President Erdogan “will try to transport these radicals from Idlib to Libya” as the Russian president fears?
Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij: First of all, this is nothing new.
The UN Panel of Experts on Libya reports about this annually; there are statistics on these militants. Both Libyans and foreigners are among them. Our task is to fight terrorism and terrorists.
I want to say an important thing: some states believe that we are fighting as a proxy for the interests of other countries, and we are doing it on our territory, shedding our blood. But this is not true.
We believe in relationships based on mutual respect and mutual interests with the whole world. But when war is imposed on us, we are forced to defend ourselves.
But in general, in our opinion, dialogue is the key to solving all problems.
No matter how difficult the problem is, the parties sooner or later will sit down at the negotiating table. We want to create a new Libya that will pay attention to its citizens as well as to international affairs.
It is very important to preserve the freedom of a citizen and to ensure the respect of the citizen of Libya by the state.
As for international relations, we do not create problems in relations with states indirectly in the interests of other countries. Our relations will be determined by our sovereign will, taking into account common interests, and also those who supported us in the just fight against terrorism.
We will not enter into conflict with other countries. We are fighting for development, human rights, peace, and coexistence.
Sputnik: Thank you, Mr Abdul Hadi Al-Hweij, for receiving us in Benghazi.
Since 2011, the year of the overthrow of the government and the murder of Muammar Gaddafi, chaos has reigned in Libya. Libya’s territory has been fragmented among several rival factions. In Tripoli, there is the Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj and recognised by the UN – an interim government for Libya that was formed under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement, a United Nations-led initiative.
In the east of the country, the people elected a parliament – the House of Representatives. It enjoys the support of the Libyan National Army under the command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar and seeks to change the balance of forces in its favour.
On 4 April 2019, the army of the influential Cyrenaica leader launched an offensive on Tripoli. They are being resisted by the militia loyal to the government of Fayez el-Sarraj, who is conducting an operation called the Volcano of Rage in response. According to UN data published on 12 July, more than 1,000 people, including 106 civilians, have been killed and more than 5,000 injured in the clashes.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/IS), a terrorist group banned in Russia and a wide number of other countries.