March 27, 2018 / 4:01 PM / 24 days ago

Libyan reconciliation the only option, says isolated town's mayor

ZINTAN, Libya, March 27 (Reuters) - Communities drawn into conflict after Libya’s 2011 uprising have no choice but to reconcile if the country is to recover, said the mayor of a town that was left isolated following fighting four years ago.

Mustafa al-Baroni, mayor of the western town of Zintan, also warned that politicians from rival bodies which have overrun their terms are scheming to cling to power, blocking progress at a local level.

Zintan emerged as an important military power-base in the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi seven years ago. However, in 2014 its forces lost their footing in the capital Tripoli to rivals from western Libyan towns including Misrata as the conflict escalated.

Zintan’s political and military allies moved to the east, but the town of 50,000 has since been working to restore relations with its neighbours and with Tripoli, now home to a U.N.-backed government that arrived in 2016. A rival government is based in eastern Libya.

“We believe strongly that national reconciliation is the gateway for building Libya. We as Libyans have to reconcile,” Baroni said in an interview.

After the fighting in 2014, movement between Zintan and Tripoli — normally just two hours away by road — was severely restricted.

Baroni said he still drives for more than 10 hours to Tunis for meetings with foreign representatives, rather than flying from the capital.

But he said military tensions in Tripoli and surrounding areas had eased, despite recent activity by Zintan forces on the western outskirts of the capital.

Many Zintan families that were displaced from Tripoli in 2014 have since returned. Reconciliation with Misrata is continuing gradually, Baroni said.

“We are making efforts for comprehensive national reconciliation locally, in the western region and in the south as best we can.”

Due to the continuing split between the governments and assemblies based in Tripoli and the east, the United Nations has been trying to amend a stalled 2015 peace deal and prepare for elections later this year.

But Baroni warned that politicians on both sides of the country were trying to block progress towards polls, including local elections for mayors whose terms are about to expire.

“There are some elements in Libya that the Libyan people have entrusted with their future who do not want this solution,” he said. “They want to stay in power forever and they have privileges and don’t feel the suffering of the Libyan people.”

Libya’s economy has been crippled since oil production was disrupted by blockades and conflict from 2013. Oil output recovered last year to more than one million barrels per day, partly due to production gains from the lifting of a pipeline blockade near Zintan.

But cash is scarce across the country and public services are in a state of collapse. Zintan, a low-rise town that sits on a hilltop ridge, has no drinking water network, Baroni said.

“We are exporting oil every day,” said Baroni. “Where is this money?”

“There can be no stability in Libya if there is no justice in the distribution of Libya’s wealth.” (editing by David Stamp)

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