Veteran military commander Khalifa Haftar, on Thursday the most powerful figure in eastern Libya, returned to Benghazi after a two-week absence during which he received medical treatment in Paris.
Haftar, 75, smiled and joked as he greeted a delegation of senior officials after stepping off a late afternoon flight from Cairo.
“I want to reassure you that I am in good health,” he told senior army commanders and local elders in a televised address from the airport shortly afterwards. “I should be addressing you standing up but I am obliged to do so sitting down,” Haftar quipped, seated in front of a bank of microphones on an ornate table.
I want to reassure you that I am in good health.
Authorities in eastern Libya did not issue any pictures or detailed information about his health during his stay in Paris, fuelling speculation over his condition and the possible impact on the balance of power in Libya.
Libya fragmented after a 2011 uprising that ended more than four decades of dictatorship under Muammar Gaddafi, and has been divided since 2014 between rival governments and military alliances based in the east and the west.
The United Nations has been leading an effort to stabilise and reunify the oil-rich nation of six million and has said it hopes to hold national elections by the end of the year.
Haftar, a former commander in Gaddafi’s army who turned against him and returned to Libya to join the 2011 uprising, has gradually extended his grip on Libya’s east and parts of the south, taking full control of Benghazi last year after a three-year military campaign.
With support from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, he has promised to drive out Islamist militants and “liberate” Tripoli, bringing the capital’s militias to heel.