Libya’s renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar has ruled out a ceasefire, saying he wants to remove groups from the capital that “infested” the United Nations-backed government, a French presidential official has said.
The flare-up in the conflict in Libya – which has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Ghaddafi was toppled in 2011 – began in early April, when Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced on the capital Tripoli.
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The LNA is now bogged down in southern suburbs by fighters loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA).
President Emmanuel Macron and French officials have for weeks repeated their official support for the GNA and have called for an unconditional ceasefire.
But some European countries, including France, have also supported Haftar as a way to fight the armed groups in the country.
Haftar 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 al-Sarraj, the official said on condition of anonymity.
“When the question of the ceasefire was put on the table, Haftar’s reaction to this was to ask: ‘negotiate with whom for a ceasefire today’,” the official said, acknowledging “an impasse between the international community’s desire for a ceasefire, and marshal Haftar’s way of seeing things”.
The battle for Tripoli has killed at least 510 people, forced 75,000 out of their homes, trapped thousands of migrants in detention centres, and flattened some southern suburbs. It has also forced the closure of schools, split families on different sides of the front line and brought power cuts.
“He [Haftar] considers that the GNA is completely infested by militias and it is not for him to negotiate with representatives of these militias,” the official said before adding that Haftar had given no indication as to when he would be ready for any potential talks.
Speaking on Euronews television on Wednesday, al-Sarraj also appeared to rule out a ceasefire, warning that the fighting would not stop until Haftar’s troops had pulled back east.
On Tuesday, the UN’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, said the current fighting could be the start of a long and bloody conflict in the country that could permanently divide it.
“We can clearly see the impasse that exists today between the desire of the international community to say that there must be a ceasefire and a resumption of political discussions and the way in which Haftar sees things with his explanation of the lack of legitimacy of the interlocutors [on the other side],” the French official said.
The official also said Haftar had rejected suggestions he or forces loyal to him were benefiting from oil sales in the east of the country.
In Paris, Haftar did not make a statement after the meeting with Macron, 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 al-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 leading European powers seeking to find a solution to years of instability and a migrant crisis in Libya.