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Libyan forces’ battle for eastern city Derna in final stages

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BENGHAZI: Forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar said their campaign against an armed coalition of local fighters and Islamists in the eastern city of Derna has reached its final stages after several days of heavy fighting.

Brigades from Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched a ground offensive to take Derna last month after encircling the city – the last in eastern Libya to elude their control – for around two years.

The fighting risks undermining UN-led efforts to reunify Libya and hold elections after years of turmoil that have provided a safe haven to militants and people smugglers, and crippled Libya’s oil-dependent economy.

Haftar is the dominant figure in eastern Libya, where he is aligned with a government and parliament that reject the internationally recognized government in the capital, Tripoli, in the northwest.

The LNA is fighting a coalition known as the Derna Protection Force (DPF), which includes local combatants and Islamist forces with links to groups in western Libya that also oppose Haftar.

The LNA says the DPF includes fighters with connections to al Qaeda, as well as foreign militants. The DPF denies that, saying it is battling to defend Derna from a military takeover as Haftar seeks national power. —AFP

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