June 5, 2017 / 9:21 AM / 6 months ago

Libya's eastern-based government cuts diplomatic ties with Qatar

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libya’s eastern-based government has followed regional allies in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, its foreign minister, Mohamed Dayri, said on Monday.

A map of Qatar is seen in this picture illustration June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

It blamed Qatar for funding groups that have contribited to Libya’s current divisions. Qatar denounces accusations that it supports militants as lies.

The Libyan move is largely symbolic because the government, which sits in the eastern city of Bayda, has little authority within Libya and is not recognised internationally. Qatar has not had a presence in eastern Libya for several years.

The Bayda government is aligned with an eastern-based parliament and powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar. They have spurned a U.N.-backed, internationally recognised government in the capital, Tripoli.

A spokesman for the eastern parliament, Abdallah Bilhaq, said the chamber was also cutting ties with Qatar.

The announcement came after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

Regional powers have sided with opposing camps that have vied for power in Libya since the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman leader Muammar Gaddafi. Their interventions are widely seen as worsening the conflict.

Egypt and the UAE are considered key supporters of Haftar, who has built his position battling Islamist militants and other opponents in eastern Libya. East Libyan authorities accuse Qatar of backing rival, Islamist-leaning factions in western Libya.

In a statement, the Bayda government’s foreign ministry said Qatari support for Islamist groups and political parties had led to the rise of the self-declared National Salvation government in western and southern Libya in 2014.

The National Salvation government was set up in 2014 after armed supporters took control of Tripoli, prompting their rivals to move to the east. It has been sidelined since the arrival of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord in the capital in March last year.

During the same period, Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has gained ground in central and southern Libya, taking control of oil facilities and military bases. Most recently they have advanced near oasis towns in the Jufra and Sabha regions.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones/Jeremy Gaunt

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