BENGHAZI, Libya – New divisions have emerged in Libya's eastern army after a military spokesman accused its top commander of corruption and treachery, calling into question the country's ability to reach a lasting peace settlement following the recent announcement of a new unity government.
In an angry TV interview late Thursday, spokesman Mohammed Hegazy accused General Khalifa Hifter of corruption. He said Hifter had seized funds and deposited them in his sons' bank accounts in neighboring countries.
He also alleged that Hifter was a traitor, who had deliberately postponed victory in the city of Benghazi, where army units and loyalist militia have been battling Islamic militants for nearly two years.
He even accused Hifter of selling weapons to rival groups, including local al-Qaida affiliate Ansar al-Shariah. The U.S. has accused the group of killing its ambassador, Christopher Stevens, as well as three other Americans in a 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
Saqr al-Joroushi, an aide to Hifter and Libya's air force commander, said there was no truth to the spokesman's allegations. He said the sons were entrusted by Hifter to use the funds to buy weapons, and added that Hifter had given the orders for a swift crackdown on any group found to have sold weapons to rival militias.
In a televised interview on Friday, Al-Joroushi also lashed out at Hegazy, saying he should have sent his reports to prosecutors rather than go public with his accusations. He said the spokesman holds no real position in the air force.
Libya's eastern parliament, the House of Representatives, says it has launched an investigation into the claims.
The internal fall-out comes at a critical time for Libya. In recent months, the international community has been pushing political rivals to unite against the rising threat of militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, who have seized the central city of Sirte and have waged attacks across the country.
Since 2014 the country has had two rival governments. The internationally recognized government sits in the east, backed by Hifter's army and other loyalist militias. An Islamist-dominated parliament sits in the capital, Tripoli, in the west, and is also backed by a loose-knit coalition of militia.
The unity government, which was announced Tuesday, has not yet been endorsed by the eastern parliament but is seen as a tentative first step to end the civil war.
Libya has fallen into chaos since the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime dictator, Moammar Gadhafi.
Hifter, who served a stint as army chief under Gaddafi before he defected to the opposition, rose to new prominence after declaring a coup against the Tripoli-based government in 2014 and launching so-called "Operation Dignity," a military campaign against Islamic militia in Benghazi and the east. He describes all Islamists as terrorists, including the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is represented in Tripoli's government.