Talks between the East Libyan military commander, Khalifa Haftar, and the head of the country’s UN-backed government, Fayez al-Sarraj, are reported to have ended positively, according to sources.Though no official statement has been released, the meeting, which lasted two hours, in Abu Dhabi is reported to have ended well and signals an improvement in relations between the two sides after Haftar’s refusal in February this year to meet al-Sarraj for talks in Cairo.
Regional and Western powers have been pushing for several months for talks between the rival figures to discuss resetting the UN-mediated Libya Political Agreement that led to the creation of al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
The need for talks is seen as crucial in order to end the turmoil that has plagued Libya since the 2011 uprising and ousting of former leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Haftar, who heads the factions in Eastern Libya, rejects the GNA’s authority and is making it difficult for the western-backed government to expand its powers beyond Tripoli. A clause in the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) that enables the GNA to assume control over the military has been rejected by the East who fears that the self-styled National Army Haftar commands will be weakened and will lose its influence in the region.
According to Mattia Toaldo, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Haftar’s meeting reflects a desire to be part of the political process. “Haftar’s change in tactics in choosing to meet with Al-Serraj can be seen as an indication that he wishes to run as a candidate in nationwide presidential elections next year,” he said.
The LPA agreement provides for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held no later than March 2018. Al-Sarraj is struggling to gain legitimacy and internal support in both the eastern and western parts of the country.