Tunisian President Kais Saied has headed to neighbouring Libya for talks with newly appointed government officials in Tripoli, becoming the first head of state to visit the war-torn country a day after an interim administration took power.
Saied on Wednesday landed in the capital’s Mitiga International Airport, where he was received by Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, who hailed the visit as “historic”.
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The pair then held talks in which they discussed reviving bilateral agreements and trade, strengthening investment and facilitating dealings between their central banks, according to a statement by the Tunisian presidency.
“We will work together to restore normal relations at all levels,” Menfi said at a brief news conference later with Saied.
The Tunisian president also met Libya’s new interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was sworn in on Monday and is tasked with governing until December elections.
Talks focused on strengthening relations in areas such as “the economy, health, transport and education”, according to the Tunisian presidency.
“It’s time to overcome all causes of alienation,” Saied said, without elaborating.
He also called for “intensifying efforts” to discover the fate of Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, who went missing in 2014 in Libya’s Ajdabiya region. ISIL (ISIS), which had been active in eastern Libya at the time, had said the two journalists were killed. But Tunisian officials refuted the claim.
Tunisia had been a key economic partner of Libya before uprisings engulfed the two countries 10 years ago. Trade between the two countries has declined to less than $363m from more than $1.2bn in 2010, according to Tunisia’s state-run news agency.
The first such visit since 2012, Saied’s trip aims to show “Tunisia’s support for the democratic process in Libya” and for greater “stability and prosperity”, his office said.
The president was joined by Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi and top Saied adviser Nadia Akacha.
In November, Tunisia hosted talks of the United Nations-picked Libyan political forum, which eventually produced a road map that appointed the interim government to lead Libya through presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24.
The appointment of the interim government, which includes a three-member presidential council headed by Menfi and a cabinet headed by Dbeibah, has revived hopes of stability in oil-rich Libya after the chaos that followed in the wake of a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The Menfi-Dbeibah government replaced rival east- and west-based administrations, which left Libya split in recent years between the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, and an eastern-based administration, backed by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
The two sides reached a ceasefire in October.
While the GNA has been backed by Turkey and Qatar, Haftar has received support from the United Arab Emirates, Russia, France and Egypt. Thousands of foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in Libya.