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Libya conference kicks off in Italy despite Haftar’s absence

November 12, 2018 at 2:21 pm

Libya Chief of Staff, Marshall Khalifa Haftar in Paris, France on 29 May 2018 [Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images]

Rival Libyan factions and international delegations have arrived in the Italian city of Palermo for a two day conference focused on uniting the country’s institutions and preparing for a national election.

The meeting, hosted by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, will be marked by the absence of Libyan General Khalifa Haftar who heads the Tobruk-based parliament in control of the east of the country. Despite previously confirming his attendance and a rumoured last minute visit by Conte on Saturday to persuade him to attend, an Italian official later confirmed that he would not be participating, with Haftar citing the presence of Qatar, “and other supporters of Al-Qaeda” at the event.

Head of the higher council of state Khaled Al-Mishri and Government of National Accord (GNA) President Fayez Al-Sarraj are expected to participate in the meeting. Their rival, parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh is also expected at the talks, with Rome also inviting a number of tribal officials.

However several Libyan political parties and factions expressed dismay earlier this month that they had not been invited, arguing that any political process in Libya must be inclusive of all political, military and social parties.

Delegations from the UN, France, Russia and the US will also be in attendance, as well as regional neighbours Sudan and Turkey.

“Libyans are sick and tired of military adventurism and petty political manoeuvres,” UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame told the Security Council in New York on Thursday.

“The time has come to give a wider and more representative group of Libyans the opportunity to meet on Libyan soil, with no external interference, in order to devise a clear path out of the present impasse,” he added, referring to the upcoming national conference.

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The meeting follows an announcement by Salame last week in which he confirmed that elections would likely be postponed from December to the spring of next year, with hopes that the upcoming conference would support the proposal.

Libyan factions agreed to proceed with elections in May, under the auspices of an international conference hosted in Paris by French President Emmanuel Macron, in a bid to unify the divided country after years of infighting. But the agreement was criticised for its hastiness and for excluding a broader spectrum of Libyan actors from the process, to the advantage of Haftar.

French President Emmanuel Macron [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

French President Emmanuel Macron [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

Subsequent violence and a deadlock between rival administrations made that goal unrealistic, after weeks of bloody clashes in the capital Tripoli displaced some 25,000 people in September. However no new time frame has officially been declared.

The Palermo conference is also regarded by many as an attempt by Italy to regain diplomatic responsibility for Libya from France, who had taken the reins after UN efforts for peace stagnated. The latest summit has revealed tensions inside the Italian government, with the Italian foreign ministry and the UN not informed of the planned conference by Prime Minister Conte prior to the public announcement.

Italy has denied the allegations, with Prime Minister Conte stating that Italy and France “share the same viewpoint and objectives” on the situation and had worked closely to set up the conference.

Since the protests against the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has faced chronic instability and violence.

In 2014, Libya split between rival camps with Haftar gradually emerging as the dominant figure in the east aligned with a regional parliament and government, and opposing the internationally recognised government in the western capital, Tripoli. Backed by Egyptthe UAE and Russia, France is also seen to have legitimised Haftar’s role in Libya, having provided him with financial, military and intelligence support.

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