November 25, 2014 / 3:23 PM / in 3 years

Libyan PM says government responsible for bombing Tripoli airport

Men stand beside a damaged building near Mitiga airport in Libya's capital Tripoli, November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said on Tuesday his government’s air force was responsible for strikes on the airport of the capital Tripoli, controlled by a rival administration.

Mitiga airport has been hit at least twice this week in the growing conflict among rival factions in the North African state three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

“The air strikes on Mitiga airport were conducted by the national air force to target the group Libya Dawn,” Thinni’s government website quoted him as saying. He was referring to an armed group backing the rival government controlling Tripoli.

Libya Dawn took over the capital Tripoli in the summer, setting up its own government, taking over ministries, and forcing Thinni and the elected parliament to move to the eastern city of Tobruk.

Thinni laid down new conditions for talks with the rival government, asking the Tripoli administration to recognize the elected parliament first, the website said. Armed groups such as Dawn also had to withdraw from the capital.

Thinni made the comments after U.N. special envoy Bernadino Leon had called on him to discuss ways to end the air strikes, officials said.

Leon “noted his concern that the latest military developments would further complicate the overall situation in the country, and undermine efforts to resolve the current crisis through peaceful means,” the U.N. Mission in Libya said in a statement.

In Tripoli, a Reuters reporter saw four heavily-damaged apartments near Mitiga airport.

The parallel government in Tripoli has said it may forbid Leon from entering the territory it controls, a move that could make it harder to negotiate an end to a struggle for power that threatens to tear the country apart.

“We were open for dialogue, but are forced into a confrontation and war and we will be victorious,” the Tripoli-based government’s Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi said late on Monday.

The North African oil producer has had two governments since August when Libya Dawn, whose opponents say is supported by Islamists, seized the capital, forcing the elected anti-Islamist administration of Thinni to move 1,000 km (600 miles) east.

Western powers worry about the conflict in the OPEC oil producing country spiralling out of control and spilling over Libya’s borders in an already volatile region.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing; editing by Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche

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