Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops on Thursday to march on the capital Tripoli, taking his conflict with the internationally recognised government to a dangerous new level.
Haftar posted his order in a video online, hours after his forces took full control of Gharyan, a town about 100 km (60 miles) south of the capital.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is in Tripoli trying to push an international peace deal, and was due to make a statement. He earlier called for restraint from all sides.
“To our army which is stationed at the outskirts of Tripoli. Today we complete our march ... We are going to start shortly,” Haftar said in the video titled ‘Operation to liberate Tripoli’.
“Today we will shake the land under the feet of their suppressors,” he added.
The capture of Gharyan after skirmishes on Wednesday with forces allied to Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj followed a rapid thrust westwards by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) from his eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
The developments mark a dramatic escalation of a power tussle that has dragged on in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The country has been divided between the Western-backed government in Tripoli and a parallel administration allied to Haftar since Gaddafi’s downfall.