Libya strongman says Russia 'to fight arms embargo'

Rome  - Russia will seek to end an arms embargo against Libya and could supply weapons to Khalifa Haftar, whose forces support a rival administration to the UN-backed unity government, the military strongman said on Tuesday.

Asked whether he was promised arms during a recent visit to Russia, Haftar said Moscow had told him weapons "can arrive only once the [UN] embargo ends".

But he was assured that "Putin will undertake to revoke it," he said in the interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera.

The Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, is recognised by the international community.

But Haftar, the controversial head of the so-called Libyan National Army, supports a parallel authority, based in eastern Libya near the border with Egypt, that controls much of the country's oil production.

The bitter divisions in the country are matched by those among the powers pushing for democracy in the conflict-torn country.

Western supporters of the GNA have prioritised the fight against Islamic State jihadists and controlling migration flows from Libya towards Europe.

But another group including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia see Haftar's forces as the nucleus of a future military, and are suspicious of the Islamist clout in Tripoli.

 Dialogue possible, but not yet 

US Secretary of State John Kerry said last month there had been a "significant shift" in efforts to bring the field marshal to the table.

Haftar said he was open to dialogue with GNA head Fayez Serraj in principle, but it was impossible to talk politics just now.

"We are at war, security issues take precedence. It's not an opportune time for politics. We need to fight to save the country from Islamic extremists," he said.

"I began talks with Serraj two and half years ago. Without any concrete results. Once the extremists have been beaten we can start talking about democracy and elections again. But not now," he added.

Haftar denied media reports of an upcoming meeting with Serraj, saying the last time they had spoken directly was in January 2016.

But he admitted: "I have nothing personally against Serraj. He is not the problem, it's those around him.

"If he really wants to fight to make peace in the country, he should take up arms and join our ranks. He is always welcome."

Libya has been mired in chaos since the fall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with a constellation of militias vying for control of the country.

Haftar complained of countries providing support to the GNA but not the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR), saying "we expect help from everyone to fight Isis (IS).

"We would be happy to cooperate with Great Britain, France or Germany. Italy too," he said.

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