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Libya peace summit struggles to draw eastern commander Haftar back into diplomacy

January 19, 2020 at 3:49 pm

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of France Emmanuel Macron, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Union Council President, Charles Michel , European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a family photo within the Berlin Conference on Libyan peace in Berlin, Germany on January 19, 2020 [Abdulhamid Hosbas / Anadolu Agency]

Countries struggled at an international peace summit for Libya struggled on Sunday to draw eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar back into diplomacy, days after he quit talks and more than half of Libya’s oil output was shut in areas he controls, reported Reuters.

Haftar, whose forces are bearing down on the capital Tripoli with the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russian mercenaries and African troops, was expected to attend the one-day summit despite having abandoned talks last week.

Turkey has rushed troops to Tripoli to help an internationally recognised government resist Haftar’s assault. Up to 2,000 Turkish-backed fighters from Syria’s civil war have also joined the battle, a UN official said on Saturday.

Haftar quit a Turkish-Russian summit a week ago and escalated the conflict on Friday when eastern oil ports were shut down. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) said the shutdown was directly ordered by Haftar’s forces and would cut oil production by 800,000 barrels a day.

That would potentially hit Tripoli hard, as oil revenues pass through the capital. Southern fields that are under Haftar’s control also face a threat of closure.

“We call on all parties concerned to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire,” said a draft of a communique to be discussed at the summit, reviewed in advance by Reuters.

Read: Turkey slams Greece for hosting Libya’s Haftar

Libya has had no stable central authority since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by NATO-backed rebels in 2011. For more than five years it has had two rival governments in the east and the west, with streets controlled by armed groups.

Haftar, the east’s most powerful figure, has won backing from a range of foreign allies for an assault to capture Tripoli in the west, while Turkish support for Tripoli’s effort to repel him has turned the conflict into a proxy war. More than 150,000 people have been displaced by fighting for the capital.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio called the summit a “point of departure” for achieving a ceasefire and blocking the import of arms.

“In the coming hours – not the coming days but the coming hours – the European states which believe in a diplomatic and political solution must immediately push for today’s results to start to be implemented,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Italy, the former colonial power, has a particular interest in Libyan security as the main destination of hundreds of thousands of African migrants sent across the Mediterranean by smugglers who have taken advantage of Libya’s lawlessness.

But since the NATO bombing campaign that helped overthrow Gaddafi, Western countries have stepped back from playing a decisive role in Libya, allowing Russia, Turkey and Arab states to take the lead as outside powers with the most clout.

Read: UN envoy hopes for, but cannot predict, speedy reopening of Libya oil port