Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is leading a military offensive against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, rejected a ceasefire requested by French President Emmanuel Macron during talks in Paris, an Elysee official said Wednesday. Hafter said the conditions for halting hostilities “were not met,” while acknowledging that a “political dialogue” is needed to end the standoff with his rival, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, the official said on condition of anonymity.
“But the mistrust between the two Libyans is stronger than ever,” the official said, acknowledging “an impasse between the international community’s desire for a ceasefire, and marshal Haftar’s way of seeing things.” He added that Haftar had justified the offensive he launched against Tripoli last month by saying he was fighting against “private militias and extremist groups” who are gaining influence in the capital.
Meanwhile, Sarraj said in Tunis Wednesday that any ceasefire could not be achieved without “the withdrawal of the forces of the aggressor”, according to a statement. In Paris, Haftar did not make a statement after meeting with Macron for over an hour, a visit that follows Haftar’s surprise trip to Rome last week for talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Both Macron and Conte had already met recently with Sarraj, who has accused Paris of supporting Haftar and tacitly backing his assault on Tripoli, claims denied by French officials. After the talks with Haftar, Macron’s office said the president reiterated France’s priorities in Libya: “Fight against terrorist groups, dismantle trafficking networks, especially those for illegal immigration, and permanently stabilise Libya.”
France and Italy are the two lead European powers seeking to find a solution to years of instability, spreading Islamic extremism and a migrant crisis in Libya, which fell into chaos after the NATO-backed toppling of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. The UN envoy for Libya warned Tuesday the battle for Tripoli was “just the start of a long and bloody war” and called for immediate steps to cut off arms flows fuelling the fighting.
Addressing the Security Council in New York, Ghassan Salame said “many countries” were supplying weapons to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli and to forces led by Khalifa Haftar. Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) is backed in particular by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
His forces initially moved fast against Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) after launching his assault on April 4. But they were stopped outside the capital by a GNA counterattack, with neither side making progress even as fighting flared this week. The weeks of fighting have killed 510 people and wounded 2,467, according to the latest toll from the World Health Organization. More than 75,000 people have fled their homes, according to the United Nations, while 100,000 are trapped by the conflict.