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France’s Libya initiative wins backing of UK, angers Italy

Head of the Libyan Presidency Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army met with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris on 25 July, 2017 [Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]
Head of the Libyan Presidency Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army met with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris on 25 July, 2017 [Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

A meeting in Paris yesterday saw Libya’s rival leaders, Fayez Al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar agree to a ceasefire, to work towards presidential and parliamentary elections and unite behind a road map to secure Libya against terrorism.

“There is political legitimacy in the hands of Mr. Sarraj. There is military legitimacy in the hands of Mr. Haftar. They have decided to work together,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after the meeting.

The 10-point joint declaration was the first of its kind between the rivals and dictates a commitment to a ceasefire with armed forces reserved “strictly” for use in counterterrorism operations.

“The stakes of this reconciliation are enormous. Enormous for the Libyan people, who have been suffering, living with instability and terrorist threats these past years, and it is considerable for the whole region,” Macron said after the talks. “If Libya fails the whole region fails with it,” he added.

The talks are also in Europe’s interest as the North African country is a transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe. There are fears that the Islamist militant insurgency will spill over the country’s borders.

Read: Sarraj and Haftar to meet in Paris for talks

The plan which emerged from the meeting is likely to be used to further the efforts of the country’s UN envoy in finding a solution.

France has made clear that Macron’s initiative is part of a larger process headed by the UN which will not override the efforts of the European Union, the African Union or individual countries like Algeria which has been actively pushing for a peaceful political solution for a number of years.

However, the French diplomatic initiative has angered Italian officials who viewed the meeting as another example of Rome being snubbed by Macron. Italy has previously been the main leader behind peace efforts in its former North African colony by backing Al-Sarraj.

“Macron wants to be much more involved in Libya. That is fine, but he has brushed us away. We were not consulted,” a diplomat in the Italian foreign ministry said. “There is a lot of anger over this,” the diplomat added.

Opposition politicians in Italy have accused Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s government of allowing the French to override Italy’s efforts but Macron’s office has said that their initiative does not exclude others.

Read: France, Germany, Italy unite to curb entry of refugees

Italy’s former European Commission president, Romano Prodi, accused Macron of putting French interests first at the expense of Italy. Prodi warned that as a result Macron could not always count on Rome’s support at the heart of Europe. “Solidarity is perhaps symmetrical. To get you have to give,” Prodi wrote in Il Messaggero newspaper.

The UK are backing France’s efforts. According to Al-Arab, Britain and France are planning to hold a closed-door meeting with the Security Council today to support the reconciliation talks between Al-Sarraj and Haftar.

In December 2015, under the United Nation’s supervision, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed to solve the multi-party crisis and to establish a presidential council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) as well as the extension of the House of Representatives (HoR) in the eastern city of Tobruk. However, since then the HoR has refused to recognise the GNA as stipulated by the agreement.

In May this year an Emirati-Egyptian initiative succeeded in bringing Al-Sarraj and Haftar together in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

Many armed groups have been fighting in Libya since a popular revolt overthrew long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 with the country now divided between alliances between three governments, two of them in the capital Tripoli, and an interim government in the city of Bayda, which belongs to the parliament of Tobruk.

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