Italy hosts Libya conference to push new UN peace plan

Effort to reconcile country split into multiple factions after plan for elections abandoned

Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya. Italian officials have been trying to secure his attendance at today’s conference in  Sicily. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya. Italian officials have been trying to secure his attendance at today’s conference in Sicily. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

 

Italy is hosting a two-day Libya conference on Monday and aims to push forward a new UN plan to stabilise the troubled North African country after a initiative to hold elections next month failed.

Last week, UN envoy Ghassan Salame officially abandoned a western plan to hold national elections on December 10th as way out of the conflict that has raged in the oil producing nation since the toppling of Muammar Gadafy in 2011.

Instead the United Nations, which has been trying to mediate for years, wants to first hold a national conference to reconcile a country divided between hundreds of rival armed groups, tribes, towns and regions.

Western powers that helped topple Gadafy then left Libya to its chaos, letting militias and radical Islamist groups grow.

But worried about it turning into a source of instability on the shores of Europe, European powers have recently paid Libya more attention, and diplomats hope the two-day meeting in the Sicilian city of Palermo will keep up that interest.

France hosted a summit in May during which the main Libyan rivals pledged to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in December.

But weeks of fighting between militias in the capital Tripoli, as well as deadlock between rump parliaments in Tripoli and the east, has made that plan unrealistic.

Italy hopes the conference will help keep pressure on Libyan players to overcome their divisions.

Two governments

The Opec oil producer has two governments, a UN-backed administration in the capital and a largely powerless eastern version aligned with influential veteran commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control much of the east.

Italian officials were scrambling at the weekend to secure Mr Haftar’s presence. If he shows up, it will be his first meeting with the Tripoli-based prime minister Fayez al-Serraj since the Paris summit, analysts said.

“I expect him [Haftar] to be present since there is no doubt that he is one of the decisive players of the stabilisation of his country,” Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte said in an interview with La Stampa newspaper.

Also in attendance will be the internationally recognised House of Representatives, as well as the State Council, a rival assembly.

Western diplomats also hope the meeting will help overcome differences between Italy and France, which both have extensive oil interests in Libya but have used different approaches to try to resolve the conflict.

France has been courting Mr Haftar, who is supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see his forces as a bulwark against Islamists.

Italy is the main backer of Mr Serraj and his weak Government of National Accord, and has worked with local groups in Libya to stop Europe-bound migrants from embarking by boat.

Refugees and migrants, many of whom were returned to the country by the EU-funded Libyan coast guard when their Italy-bound boats were intercepted, have reported terrible conditions in Tripoli detention centres.

In his newspaper interview, Mr Conte denied that there was rivalry with France over Libya, saying Paris and Rome share “the same viewpoint and objectives”.

“We face a common challenge [the stabilisation of Libya] and the risks of a further deteriorations of the crisis are weighing on us all,” Mr Conte said. – Reuters