Libya’s presidential council has banned any military movement across the country without its approval after forces loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar said they took control of a border crossing with Algeria and declared it a military zone.
“The Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army announces a complete ban on the movement of military units, regardless of the nature of their work, without his prior approval,” the media office of the Burkan al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) Operation, the government-led counteroffensive launched last April, said on Saturday in a statement on Twitter.
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It is also banned the movement of “military convoys for any purpose, or to transfer personnel, weapons or ammunition”, the statement said.
If necessary, the “repositioning or moving” of military convoys should only take place “in accordance … and with the approval of the Supreme Commander”, it added.
Earlier on Saturday, a large military force loyal to Haftar said it took control of the southern Essen border crossing with Algeria, declaring the area a military zone in which movement was strictly forbidden.
Images posted online showed dozens of armoured vehicles positioned in and around the crossing, which has been closed for several years due to the conflict in Libya.
The move came after Haftar, in a statement on Thursday, announced an operation in the area “to track down the … terrorists and expel African mercenary gangs which threaten security and stability”.
This is the first military operation of its kind by Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army since the signing of a ceasefire deal late last year and the takeover by the unity government.
“Libya has seen relative peace since the ceasefire agreement was signed in October, so this is a very significant movement,” said Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Tripoli.
“It is the first time [since then] that such a large military mobilisation has happened,” he added.
Local sources in the south told Al Jazeera that the convoy that arrived on Saturday consisted of Tuareg fighters and forces loyal to former strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya has been racked with chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Gaddafi in 2011 and eventually split the oil-rich country between a UN-recognised government in the capital and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, Haftar and his eastern-based forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli.
His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its support of the Tripoli government with advanced military hardware, troops and thousands of mercenaries.
The October ceasefire led to the formation of the joint interim government, which replaced the two rival administrations. It is tasked with bringing together the divided country and steering it through presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24.
There were concerns the latest move by Haftar could “impede the elections and the peace process”, Traina said.
An international conference on Libya is scheduled to take place in Germany on June 23. The event, co-hosted by the United Nations, is meant to “bring the foreign actors involved … together in Berlin to discuss supporting Libya’s new interim unity government”.