By Libya Herald reporters.
Sebha/Tunis, 22 March 2017:
Initial reports that Misrata’s Third Force have pulled out of its last position in Fezzan, three years after it moved into the region appear to have been premature.
It was stated that the withdrawal from Tamenhint airbase, where the Misratans were effectively surrounded, followed negotiations with General Mohamed Ben Nayel, the leader forces comprising a number of local brigades who are now part of the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter.
In a statement, LNA spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mismari said that the Third Force had been promised safe passage out of the south.
However, the Libya Herald has now been told that the elements of the Third Force who have pulled out are those who were based at the Gwirat Al-Mal checkpoint, near Tamenhint airbase – not those at Tamenhint itself.
“All Fezzan is now in Hafter’s hands”, this newspaper had been told earlier this evening by a political activist in Sebha who did not want to be named. He had added that it included the Sharara oil field, taken over by the Third Force from Tebu and Zintani Petroleum Facilities Guards in November 2014. However, LNA spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mismari said negotiations over control of the field were still continuing.
In fact it now transpires that the Third Force still remain at the airbase with negotiations for their departure still ongoing.
The Third Force was originally sent by the government of Ali Zeidan in January 2014 to try and keep the peace between warring local communities in and around Sebha. By last December, however, its control over the region had so weakened that it was forced to handover the Brak Al-Shatti airbase to Nayel’s forces without a fight. By the end of 2016, Nayel was demanding that it quit Fezzan altogether. However, the force’s commander, Jamal Treiki, rejected this. But by early January, it presence in the region was limited to Tamenhint and the area around the Gwirat Al-Mal checkpoint. On Monday, the Misratans were forced to hand over the checkpoint and it was then clear that the airbase itself was becoming untenable.
Although the General Nayel’s forces are officially part of the LNA, they are seen as local and the departure of the Misratans is widely welcomed. Two days ago, Sebha mayor Hamed Rafeh told this newspaper that he would be happy to see the Third Force pull out.
Libyan Airlines has meanwhile announced that it will not restart flights to Tamenhint until the situation is deemed stable.