Libya’s neighbours, UN voice support for its new move for talks

The Abu Dhabi meeting is seen as a step forward, although many hurdles remain to reaching a new broad agreement to stabilise Libya.

Fighters loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government celebrate as they come close to seizing the centre of Libya's eastern coastal city of Benghazi on 23 February  2016. Picture: Abdullah Doma/AFP.

UNITED NATIONS – Libya’s neighbours and the United Nations on Monday voiced their support for a meeting held last week between the North African country’s main rival figures, the head of the UN-backed government, Fayez Seraj, and eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

The two men had held talks in Abu Dhabi, their first in more than a year and a half, over a UN-mediated deal that Western powers hope will end the factional fighting that has dominated Libya since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya’s neighbours and regional powers have often differed on how to advance, with Egypt closer to Haftar and his anti-Islamist militant campaign and Algeria pushing for an inclusive approach including using the influence of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist movement.

As part of diplomatic efforts by Libya’s neighbours, Algeria on Monday hosted a meeting with the UN envoy to Libya and ministers from Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Niger and Chad, as well as representatives of the UN-backed government.

The Abu Dhabi meeting is seen as a step forward, although many hurdles remain to reaching a new broad agreement to stabilise Libya, including divisions within each faction between hardliners and moderates more open to negotiations.

“The ministers welcomed the meeting held in Abu part of efforts undertaken by Libyan actors to support the process of political settlement,” the meeting attendees said in a joint statement.

“The meeting between Prime Minister Seraj and Marshall Haftar is a positive sign,” UN envoy Martin Kobler said in separate comments in the Algiers meeting.

Seraj’s UN-backed government has struggled to extend its authority and even in Tripoli faces resistance from armed groups and former government leaders trying to regain power.

Haftar is the dominant figure for factions in eastern Libya that have so far rejected Seraj’s government. Rival armed factions in the west of the country, mostly in the powerful port city of Misrata, have backed Seraj’s government.

Details of the Abu Dhabi meeting have yet to emerge. But one major disagreement has been the UN deal giving Seraj’s leadership control over military appointments, which eastern factions fear will weaken Haftar’s Libyan National Army.

Attempts to stabilise Libya have been complicated by the myriad of brigades of former rebels who back rival political factions, often with ties to regional powers such as United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar. Russia is also becoming involved.