Rival Libyan leaders rule out immediate ceasefire
TUNIS - Both protagonists of Libya’s civil war have rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire, raising the spectre of protracted conflict in the country’s capital.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who heads the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), said on Wednesday in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron that there could be no talk of a ceasefire until militias allied with the Tripoli-based government are disbanded.
“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?’” said one French official present at the meeting, Reuters reported.
“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 added.
On the same day, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-backed government in Tripoli, said there could be no ceasefire until Haftar’s forces withdraw from the capital.
“The call for a cease-fire can only be made with the withdrawal of forces from the aggressor," Sarraj said at a meeting with diplomats in Tunis.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sarraj met with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, whose country has played an important role in mediation efforts.
Caid Essebsi stressed during the meeting that Tunisia has no interest in Libya “except the restoration of concord, stability and security in this country,” according to the Tunisian Press Agency (TAP).
While in Tunis, Sarraj also reportedly held talks with influential tribal leaders and elders from the east, whose support he is seeking to bolster his weakened government.
Libya fell into a new round of violence early April when Haftar’s LNA advanced on the capital Tripoli. Fighting has since left over 460 dead and some 75,000 displaced from the capital and surrounding areas, according to the UN.
The international community is divided over the conflict that analysts warn could drag on for months and drive regional instability.
The UN officially recognises Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) but France and the US have lent support to Haftar’s LNA. Gulf powers Saudi Arabia and the UAE also support Haftar, while Turkey and Qatar have put their weight behind Sarraj.
Both sides are accused of bringing in mercenaries and foreign weaponry to bolster their forces.
Last week, Tripoli-based militias said they had received a shipment of Turkish armoured vehicles and weaponry, despite a UN arms embargo that prohibits such transfers.
UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame has denounced a lack of "moral motivation" to end the war and urged the international community to come together to forge a solution before conflict leads to the "permanent division of the country."
“I am not sure the some leading countries in the security council are fully aware of the risks they are taking by allowing the conflict to fester,” Salame said Wednesday at the International Peace Institute in New York. “This particular conflict can transform, it could mutate in a few months so we truly regret that we did not stop it on time."