Libya PM in rare meeting with rival strongman

(iStock)
(iStock)

Tripoli - The head of Libya's UN-backed unity government on Tuesday held a rare meeting with a military strongman who supports a rival authority in the violence-wracked country, official media said.

Fayez al-Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar met face-to-face in Abu Dhabi, the LANA news agency said, for only the second time since Sarraj was named prime minister-designate in late 2015.

Sarraj and Haftar met "thanks to international and Arab mediation", according to LANA, which is loyal to the parliament based in eastern Libya, after a first meeting in January last year.

Libyan television broadcaster 218 reported that the two held talks "in private" after posing for a photograph together.

Political rivalry and fighting between militias has hampered Libya's efforts to recover from the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

Haftar, who backs an administration based in the far east of the country, has refused to recognise the authority of the UN-backed Government of National Accord since it started working in Tripoli in March last year.

In February, Sarraj said Haftar had refused to meet him in person in Cairo for Egypt-backed talks to discuss possible amendments to a UN-backed agreement signed in late 2015 that gave birth to the fragile unity government.

The Libya Political Agreement (LPA) gave no role in Libya's future to Haftar, whose forces control much of the country's east.

But Haftar, the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army, has since established himself as a key player, especially after seizing the country's key oil terminals in September.

Mattia Toaldo, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Tuesday's meeting came after a change of tack from Haftar, who seeks nationwide presidential polls next year.

Haftar is "now pursuing a different strategy... exchanging his support for an amended LPA for a guarantee to have presidential elections early in 2018 in which it would be thinkable for him to run", Toaldo said.

The meeting also comes as Sarraj seeks "badly needed legitimisation" from the eastern authorities, even as he struggles with internal support in western Libya where factions are hostile to Haftar, he said.

"I doubt that anything negotiated by Sarraj would be accepted peacefully by factions in western Libya if it is seen as giving Haftar a too prominent position within the security sector or the political system," Toaldo said.

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