ABU DHABI // The UAE on Wednesday hailed a meeting in Abu Dhabi between two rival Libyan leaders as a significant breakthrough in talks aimed at ending the conflict.
The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs voiced optimism over the meeting between Fayez Al Sarraj, prime minister of Libya’s UN-backed government, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the country’s most powerful military commander, the state news agency, Wam, reported.
The meeting was a “positive development in guaranteeing a political solution to the crisis and instability in Libya” and “an important step on the road to reaching a tangible progress in the political process”, the Ministry said.
Libya TV reported that the two men agreed on holding presidential and parliamentary elections next year while Libya’s armed forces//WAS THIS HAFTAR’S LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY?// posted a Facebook photo of the two men together.
Tuesday’s meeting was only the second time the two men had met since Mr Al Sarraj was named prime minister at the end of 2015 and comes after months of international pressure.
The importance of the meeting was bolstered by the arrival of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Cairo wants to make sure its border with Libya is secured against threats from ISIL and the general chaos of the country.
Field Marshal Haftar is the key power broker in eastern Libya and of its House of Representatives parliament, a rival administration to the UN-backed Government of National Accord led by Mr Al Sarraj.
Under the Libya Political Agreement transition plan, the House of Representatives was supposed to join with the Tripoli-based GNA and become the country’s legislative body. But this merger broke down over whether Field Marshal Haftar would have a military or political role in the new government.
Mattia Toaldo, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Tuesday’s meeting came after a change of tack from the commander, who seeks to run in nationwide presidential elections next year.
Field Marshal Haftar is “now pursuing a different strategy … exchanging his support for an amended LPA (Libya Political Agreement) for a guarantee to have presidential elections early in 2018 in which it would be thinkable for him to run”, Mr Toaldo said.
The UAE praised the efforts of the United Nations and its Special Representative to Libya, Martin Kobler, who held separate talks with representatives of both camps in Sudan earlier this week. The two leaders had refused to meet during mediation efforts in Cairo in February.
Arab and western diplomats consider Field Marshal Haftar key to any political agreement and have urged the Government of National Accord to give him a role in a unified national military that can fight ISIL as well as human trafficking.
The commander heads the Libyan National Army, the strongest military force in Libya, which has successfully pushed the extremists out of their base in the east of the country.
Including Field Marshal Haftar’s forces in a unified national military could better address the existence of ISIL in Libya, as well as the increase in the flow of migrants.
Stabilising the Libyan economy also had to be a priority with a plan to equally distribute Libyan resources among all parties, the UAE Foreign Ministry said.
Since the uprising that deposed Muammar Qaddafi, fighting has raged for the country’s oil wealth. Field Marshal Haftar gained considerable leverage over the negotiations process after seizing Libya’s main oil terminals in September.
The UAE’s statement on Wednesday said it supported a global effort in resolving the conflict but that any solution should come from, and be supported by, the Libyans.
* Additional reporting from Associated Press and Agence France-Presse