Libyan Rivals Reach Agreement on Political Unification
16:31 03.05.2017(updated 16:35 03.05.2017)
Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya's UN-backed government, has met with his rival Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in the United Arab Emirates. It has been reported as a rare, but highly anticipated meeting between the leaders from the two rival Libyan factions.
The two men held one-on-one talks in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, May 2, but the meeting had been brokered by outside Arab powers, including Egypt and the UAE. Sources close to Haftar have suggested that the meeting was cordial and positive.
Outside powers, including Egypt and Russia, have been calling for a political solution to Libya's fratricidal conflict for months. Forging a lasting reconciliation between Haftar and Sarraj has long been recognized as the fulcrum to achieving unity in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Both men have faced calls for them to come together and cooperate on the redrafting of the UN-mediated agreement of 2015 that spawned the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which is led by Sarraj. Haftar has repudiated the mandate of the GNA, as it gave neither him or his colleagues in the opposition parliament any role in Libya's political future. The Parliament led by Haftar is based in the the city of Tobruk in the country's east.
Back in February, Sarraj claimed that Haftar refused to meet him for discussions in Cairo as part of an Egyptian-backed effort to amend the GNA agreement of 2015.
The GNA was formed in December 2015 as part of a UN-led initiative to end the maelstrom of violence that consumed Libya following the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of longtime leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. However, Haftar's forces – the Libyan National Army (LNA) – now control large territory in Libya's East, and refuse to recognize the authority of the GNA.
For many Libyans in the east of the country, particularly the second city of Benghazi, Haftar is seen as the more credible leader over the GNA's Serraj. In large part, this is because as a retired army general, Haftar launched his own war against Islamist militant groups that had started to take over swaths of the east of the country following Gaddafi's fall. Many in the eastern Libya felt that the GNA has been ineffective and indifferent to their trials.
Additionally, on 11 September 2016, Haftar and the LNA launched a military operation called "Sudden Lightning," which wrestled control of Libya's four major oil terminals that had been under the control of groups loyal to warlord, Ibrahim Jadhran. After taking the crescents, Haftar handed them over to the Libyan National Oil Company to resume exports.
Although the reinvigoration of Libya's oil industry has been sluggish, the move cemented Haftar's credibility as a tough and decisive leader in the eyes of ordinary Libyans concentrated in the east.
Because of the aforementioned, the GNA has struggled to expand its power beyond Tripoli and into the country's West. At Tuesday's meeting, Haftar and Serraj were expected to discuss issues related to the Libyan army and a possible power-sharing agreement. Libyan television broadcaster 218 reported that both men held talks "in private" after posing together for a photo.
The Libyan Express has also reported that during the talks it was decided that Haftar will be nominated as Libyan president in March 2018. The agreement between the two also reportedly calls for an end to foreign interference in Libyan security affairs.
One bone of contention between the two men has been a clause in the UN-backed GNA agreement which cedes totally authority to the GNA's leadership to control military appointments. Haftar, and his colleagues in the Eastern parliament fear that this will undermine Haftar's control over his Libyan National Army. A source close to Haftar told Reuters that a solution to this had been agreed upon, and "permanent channels of communication" will be opened.
The latest meetings between the two men could be a significant step toward ending the stalemate that has crippled Libya's ability to unify following the 2011 revolution. But Haftar and Sarraj are not the only players on the political scene. If any deal between the two is to stand the test of time, it will need support from the various armed groups that have, up until now, supported their preferred camp in either Tobruk or Tripoli.
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