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AP Interview: Army chief in Libya's east bets on military solution if UN-led peace talks fail

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AMMAN, Jordan — The military chief of Libya's internationally recognized government expressed skepticism Tuesday about U.N.-backed talks aimed at ending the country's political split and said in an interview that he is "betting on a military solution" if a deal remains elusive.

Gen. Khalifa Hifter's comments underscored the obstacles to any agreement between rival governments in Libya. The international community is pushing for a deal, fearing that Libya's chaos could destabilize its neighbors.

Libya effectively split in half last year when forces allied to Hifter attempted to drive rival militias out of Tripoli and were defeated, leaving Libya's internationally recognized government and elected parliament confined to the eastern cities of Tobruk and Bayda.

The two sides have been negotiating in Morocco to end months of fighting, the bloodiest since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

U.N. envoy Bernadino Leon has visited both Tripoli and Tobruk, where he has proposed keeping Libya's elected parliament and setting up a unity government of independents. A new round of talks is to begin Wednesday.

Hifter, who commands forces loyal to the Tobruk government, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he doesn't oppose negotiations outright. He said he would abide by decisions of his government, but said it was not clear how the political rivals could reach a deal. He would not agree to any cease-fire with militias, he said.

PHOTO: Military chief of Libya's internationally recognized government, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Amman, Jordan, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Hifter said in an interview that he is "betting on a military solution" if U.N.-led talks fail to end a conflict that has split the country in half. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
Military chief of Libya's internationally recognized government, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Amman, Jordan, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Hifter said in an interview that he is "betting on a military solution" if U.N.-led talks fail to end a conflict that has split the country in half. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Hifter said that if peace talks go nowhere, "then the military solution is a must because it is decisive."

"The military solution is a painful solution," he said. "But when we are forced to, when we see our homeland torn apart as it is happening now, between militias and terrorists, we resort to a military solution. We are betting on the military solution."

The general said he believes his forces could win such a battle even though they currently control only a small area of Libya and no major cities.

Militants affiliated with the Islamic State group and other jihadists have gained a foothold in the vast, petroleum-rich country. The gunmen who attacked a Tunisian museum last month, killing 22 people, mostly tourists, were reportedly trained in Libya and the Islamic State group's Libyan affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hifter spoke during a visit to Jordan, a member of a U.S.-led military coalition that has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

On Monday, Hifter met with Jordan's King Abdullah II and with army chief, Lt. Gen. Mashal Zaben. Abdullah told Hifter that Jordan supports Libya's efforts to fight militants, according to the official news agency Petra. Zaben and Hifter talked about closer coordination between the two armies.

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Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed to this report.

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