Libya’s government based in Tripoli has accused France of backing self-styled commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces have launched an offensive to seize the capital.
The interior ministry of the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj ordered the suspension of all relations between the ministry and the French side on Friday.
Interior minister Fathi Bach Agha cited “the position of the French government in support of the criminal Haftar” as the reason.
French foreign ministry reacted to the decision, dismissing the accusations as “disappointing” and “completely unfounded.”
“France supports the legitimate government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the mediation of the UN towards an inclusive political solution in Libya,” the French presidency said in a statement.
General Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked Tripoli — where Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) is seated — early this month.
The attack has prompted intense fighting between Haftar’s forces and those loyal to the GNA, threatening to push the country into a fully-grown civil war.
The fighting has killed more than 200 people and left 614 others wounded, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
France has supported Haftar in the past along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates because it is believed to be relying on oil imports from the regions under his control.
The LNA has almost two-thirds of the country and all oilfields under its control.
Paris is also adamant about maintaining its foothold in the African continent, even in the countries which gained independence almost six decades ago.
France played the leading role in a military campaign by NATO which led to the ouster of Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and plunged the country into the current crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s trip to the Horn of Africa nations last week has been largely seen as part of attempts to counter China’s growing influence.
According to a report published by The Wall Street Journal this weekend, Saudi Arabia has also “promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation” by Haftar’s forces in Libya.
“The offer came during a visit to Saudi Arabia that was just one of several meetings Mr. Haftar had with foreign dignitaries in the weeks and days before he began the military campaign on April 4,” wrote the Journal.
On Thursday, the United Nations’ envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame warned of “a widening conflagration” in the country.
He also referred to “countries that have invested in Mr Haftar as a champion of the fight against terrorism,” without naming them.
“They will not drop him now even if they do not agree with his attack on Tripoli,” he added.