Sarraj and Haftar meet in Abu Dhabi, discuss Libya crisis

The ground under Sarraj seems to be slipping, with the Tripoli Protection Force on which he relies increasingly antagonistic.
Sunday 03/03/2019
Members of forces loyal to Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar stand guard near Libya’s El Sharara oilfield in Obari, February 11. (Reuters)
Fresh gains. Members of forces loyal to Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar stand guard near Libya’s El Sharara oilfield in Obari, February 11. (Reuters)

TUNIS - The two main Libyan protagonists — Fayez, head of the UN-backed Presidential Council (PC) in Tripoli, and Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) — met in Abu Dhabi on February 27.

The meeting, organised by the United Arab Emirates, was officially at the invitation of UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame.

It was Sarraj’s and Haftar’s second meeting in the United Arab Emirates, the other occurring in May 2017, and their fifth since the Libyan Political Agreement in December 2015 and the arrival of Sarraj in Tripoli three months later.

They met twice in Paris — in July 2017 and May 2018 — and once in Palermo, last November.

The Abu Dhabi meeting almost did not happen. Rumours of the get-together were met with firm assurances from the Haftar camp that the field-marshal would never meet with Sarraj again.

Sarraj was described by Haftar’s allies as “a weak figure” and a puppet in the hands of “other parties including armed groups that control Tripoli and suspicious groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Pro-Haftar officials said Sarraj had no control of the situation in Tripoli and “will not be able to offer anything.”

Acknowledging on Twitter that the meeting had taken place, the UN Support Mission in Libya said Salame hosted a meeting between Sarraj and Haftar during which they agreed on the necessity of ending the state of transition in “Libya through general elections & on ways to safeguard stability & unify institutions.”

Two days after the meeting in Abu Dhabi, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement that Sarraj and Haftar had reached an “agreement on the need to end the transitional stages in Libya through the holding of general elections.” No date was given for a vote, however. Both meetings in Paris ended with announcements that Sarraj and Haftar had agreed that Libya should have elections but the polls never materialsed.

PC spokesman Mohamed El-Sallak, who provided the only other official confirmation of the meeting, said Sarraj told Haftar there could be no military solution to the Libyan crisis. Another source said Sarraj told the field-marshal that the military had to be subject to a civilian government.

If accurate, this would be a remarkably strong stance by Sarraj given that Haftar and his LNA are in the ascendant in Libya following their sweep through southern Libya.

Virtually all of southern and eastern Libya is in the LNA’s hands and under the civil administration of the Libyan House of Representatives-appointed Thinni government in Beida, which the United Nations and many Western countries refuse to recognise despite its evident power.

By contrast, the ground under Sarraj seems to be slipping, with the Tripoli Protection Force on which he relies increasingly antagonistic.

With the taking of the south-western Libya oil and gas fields of El Sharara and El Fil Haftar, the Thinni administration controls more than 90% of Libyan oil production.

The international community, particularly the United States, has made it clear that no one other than the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC) would be allowed to export oil and that all income must go to the Tripoli-based Central Bank of Libya.

The most the LNA could do to prevent Sarraj and the PC from gaining the money from exports would be closing the valves but that would be a massive error that the international community would not take kindly to and which they are unlikely to take.

That was clear in Abu Dhabi.  It was not just Sarraj, Haftar and their entourages who were invited for talks. NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla was present, the aim being to convince him to lift force majeure at El Sharara Libya’s largest oilfield, and restart production.

In separate talks February 25, Sarraj and Sanalla agreed to lift force majeure but, within a few hours, Sanalla repeated that would not happen until civilians, believed to be from the Fezzan Rage Movement, were removed and prosecuted.

“The oil field is not yet safe,” he insisted. “The conditions for reopening El Sharara, including safety for oil workers and the departure of the armed group responsible for the field’s closure, had not yet been met.”

The Libyan Attorney General’s office subsequently ordered the arrest of 25 Fezzan Rage members but it was unknown whether they had been detained.

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