Italy’s top diplomat held talks with General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-declared Libyan National Army (LNA) in a bid to strengthen ties, the Italian foreign ministry said.
Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanese’s trip on Monday to the eastern city of Benghazi comes as part of Italy’s wider attempt to stabilise Libya and move the legislative process forward.
The two men “had a long and cordial conversation in Benghazi, relaunching Libya’s close relationship with Italy in a climate of consolidated trust,” the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Italy, a key supporter of the UN-backed government of Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli, wants to “maintain an active dialogue with all well-intentioned actors in Libya,” Milanesi said.
“The current political path must be completed, in particular through free and fair elections, held under adequate security conditions,” he added after France pushed for elections before the end of the year.
The ministry said Haftar “expressed his appreciation for Italy’s foreign policy, which Libya can’t do without.”
“Marshal Haftar added that he was ready to contribute to actively support security, stabilisation and dialogue in the country, for the good of all Libyans,” the ministry said, without elaborating.
The LNA said in a statement that the two men discussed “the upcoming Libyan elections and ways of guaranteeing their transparency”.
Last Thursday however, Haftar criticised Italy, saying those “implementing their [Italy’s] demands are a real problem”, a veiled reference to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
The GNA has been unable to form a functioning army or regular security forces, relying instead on autonomous militias to enforce security in Tripoli.
Militias formed the backbone of the uprising that toppled long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi but the GNA has failed to bring the groups under control.
Since then rival administrations – including one allied with Haftar and based in the remote east – and the militias have competed for authority and oil wealth in the north African country.
Accused by his opponents of wanting to establish a new military dictatorship, Haftar refuses to recognise the authority of Sarraj’s GNA.