Haftar holds meetings in Greece ahead of Libya peace summit

Talks come as world powers step up efforts for lasting ceasefire in North African country.

Khalifa Haftar
Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias, right, meets Libyan renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, left, in Athens [Costas Baltas/Reuters]

Libyan renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar was holding talks in Athens on Friday, days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin which he and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government, Fayez al-Sarraj, are expected to attend.

He met Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias and was due to meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as well as other senior Greek officials.

The talks come as world powers step up efforts for a lasting ceasefire, nine months since an assault on Tripoli by Haftar’s forces sparked fighting that has killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters, displacing tens of thousands.

The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, and multiple foreign powers have become embroiled.

Following disputed elections in 2014, the country has been divided between competing administrations, with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and a rival administration in Libya’s east, which is aligned with Haftar. 

The GNA is backed by Turkey, while Haftar has the support of neighbouring Egypt as well as the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

An interim truce that came into force on Sunday has mostly held, despite accusations of violations from Haftar’s forces and those allied with the GNA.

Haftar flew to Athens by private plane on Thursday and was taken to a luxury hotel where he was met by foreign minister Dendias for an initial round of talks, TV footage showed.

Greece has sought a more active role in Libya after the GNA signed maritime and military cooperation deals with Turkey in November, carving out energy spheres of influence in the Mediterranean.

“[During the meeting] we expect the Greek side to outline its position very clearly to the general,” Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos reporting from Athens said. 

“[The government] said [it] will not accept any Libyan solution that doesn’t include the scrapping of [the] maritime deal.”

The Turkish deal claims much of the Mediterranean for energy exploration, conflicting with rival claims by Greece and Cyprus.

Reporting from Tripoli, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said Turkey has no intentions of scrapping its security and maritime deals.

“President Erdogan has [said] they will continue deploying Turkish troops to Libya as long as [this is] requested by the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).”

Prime Minister Mitsotakis has said Athens will veto any agreement brought before the European Union for approval unless the contentious agreement is dropped.

Haftar agreed “in principle” on Thursday to attend a peace conference in Berlin on Sunday after al-Sarraj signalled he would be present.

Failed initial negotiations 

Haftar had walked away from ceasefire talks in Moscow on Monday, but German Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas visited his eastern Libya stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday to persuade him to join the conference.

Haftar “wants to contribute to the success of the Libyan conference in Berlin and is in principle ready to participate in it,” Maas tweeted, calling it “the best chance in a long time” for peace.

He added that Haftar “has agreed to abide by the ongoing ceasefire”.

But al-Sarraj, whose GNA did sign the Moscow deal, cast doubt over Haftar’s intentions.

Haftar “has chosen not to sign the agreement and asked for a delay,” he said, calling that “an attempt to undermine the Berlin conference before it starts.”

Haftar's Libya
Haftar had walked away from ceasefire talks in Moscow on Monday [AFP]

External interference

The United Nations said the Berlin talks aim to end foreign interference and division over Libya.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will take part in and voice support for truce efforts, the State Department said on Thursday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for firm support for the peace talks and asked for a halt in the fighting.

Guterres also warned against “external interference”, saying it would “deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a clear international commitment to a peaceful resolution of the underlying crisis.”

The conference will aim to agree to six points including a permanent ceasefire, implementation of a much-violated UN arms embargo and a return to political efforts for peace, Guterres said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies