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Rival Libya leaders ‘commit to ceasefire, elections’ at talks

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj (L) attend a meeting for talks aimed at easing tensions. – AFP

PARIS: The two main rivals in conflict-ridden Libya are committed to a ceasefire and holding elections “as soon as possible”, according to a draft statement released ahead of French-brokered talks yesterday. The communique says Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who controls the remote east of the vast country, accept that only a political solution can end the crisis.

Diplomatic sources said the two sides had agreed on a joint statement but that the text being circulated was not the final version. The 10-point version seen by AFP says the ceasefire would not apply to counter-terrorism efforts. It also says the two sides are committed to developing the rule of law. French President Emmanuel Macron, who has made Libya one of his foreign policy priorities, has organized the meeting and while officials admit they have modest expectations, they say it sends a “strong signal”.

French officials are aiming to persuade the two sides to agree on a roadmap to end a conflict that has plunged the oil-rich country into chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi. The newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Ghassam Salame, was to chair the talks, but Macron was to make a statement at the end. It is the second time that Sarraj and Haftar have met in the space of three months after they held talks in Abu Dhabi in May. That meeting made little progress.

Battle for control

Dozens of armed groups have vied for control in Libya in the power vacuum created by Kadhafi’s fall. Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) has sought to unify powerful factions, but despite support from the United Nations has struggled to assert its authority since it began work in Tripoli in March 2016. A rival administration based in Libya’s remote east-with which Haftar is allied-refuses to recognise Sarraj’s government.

Jihadist groups have profited from the turmoil, seizing the Mediterranean coastal city of Benghazi three years ago, although Haftar’s forces drove the extremists out earlier this month. Another diplomatic source involved in the talks said there was skepticism about whether the military strongman was prepared to share power.

“We have to hope that when he signs something, he will keep his word,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Human Rights Watch said it was watching the talks closely after a video appeared on social media this week showing the execution of 20 blindfolded people in orange jumpsuits, reportedly by members of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Haftar.

Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director for Human Rights Watch said, if confirmed, the executions were “yet another manifestation of how (the LNA’s members) are taking the law into their own hands in the absence of accountability and rule of law”. The rights group called for those accused to be removed from active duty and held accountable if found guilty.

Human traffickers have exploited the chaos in Libya to boost their lucrative but deadly trade, and the country has this year become the main springboard for migrants seeking to reach Europe in often flimsy and overloaded boats. Since January, more than 100,000 migrants have made the perilous voyage from Libya, with 85,000 arriving on the shores of Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration. About 2,360 people have drowned this year attempting to make the journey, the IOM says. – AFP


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