When General Khalifa Haftar, the 76-year-old strongman who controls eastern Libya, ordered his troops to seize Tripoli last week, it did not seem to bother him that António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, was in the city preparing for a peace conference. The timing, with its implied contempt for UN efforts to heal Libya’s division, is in keeping with the general’s character. He opted for military action, Libya-watchers say, because the reconciliation process would not anoint him supreme ruler of the oil-exporting country. “He has a personal ambition for dominance,” says Frederic Wehrey, analyst and author of The Burning Shores: Inside the Battle for the New Libya. “He also says that Libya is not ready for democracy.” Libya has been in turmoil since the Nato-backed revolution of 2011 overthrew the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The country is split between a UN-backed government in Tripoli and rival authorities in the east, while scores of militias control local areas. Even the Tripol...

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