Libya commander Haftar visits Russia ahead of conference

Haftar met with the Russian defense minister in Moscow on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Libya commander Haftar visits Russia ahead of conference

  • Russia’s military has long shown backing for the powerful Libyan commander, who dominates eastern Libya
  • Russia is expected to send high-level representatives to the Palermo meeting

MOSCOW: Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian media reported, signalling Kremlin support ahead of a conference aimed at settling the north African country’s years of strife.

Russia’s military has long shown backing for the powerful Libyan commander, who dominates eastern Libya.  

He has visited Russia before, and last year the Russian Defense Ministry hosted him aboard its sole aircraft carrier.

Shoigu and Haftar discussed the Libyan crisis and the security situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Russian news agencies said, citing a defense ministry statement, without giving details.

Italy will host an international conference on Libya on Monday and Tuesday, which Haftar will attend, Italy has said. 

Haftar’s office said the meeting in Moscow had covered ways to end Libya’s crisis and the fight against terrorism.

Russia is expected to send high-level representatives to the Palermo meeting.

The international community formally backs the transitional government in Tripoli, but Egypt and the UAE have lent Haftar support and European states including France courted Haftar as his power grew.

UN efforts to stabilize Libya have long been undercut by the divergent agendas of foreign powers.

France has vied for influence with Italy, which has sought to protect its oil and gas interests and stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, by building ties in Tripoli.

 

 

In recent weeks, Western powers and the UN have quietly stopped talking about the election in December, without formally declaring it dead.

In May, France had persuaded major players in the North African country to verbally agree to elections on Dec. 10 as a way of ending repeated rounds of bloodshed between competing factions.

But weeks of fighting between rival militias in Tripoli and deadlock between rump parliaments in Tripoli and the east has made that goal unrealistic, Western officials argue.

Shelving the plans for presidential and parliamentary elections is the latest setback for Western powers.

Instead of pushing for a vote as a short-term goal, UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame was focusing in a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday on staging a national conference next year and fixing the economy, diplomats said.

The conference would aim to forge consensus in a country divided between hundreds of armed groups controlling mostly minimal territory, towns, tribes and regions.

Salame plans to push again for economic reforms to end a system benefiting armed groups that have access to cheap dollars due to their power over banks.

Salame is the sixth UN special envoy for Libya since 2011.

Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September, including a fee on purchases of foreign currency, can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes as long as the central bank remains divided and predatory factions retain their positions.

The reforms have so far done little to improve conditions for ordinary Libyans hit by steep inflation and a cash crisis linked to the fall of the dinar on the black market.

For the militias, the sources said Salame would outline a new “security arrangement” for Tripoli aimed at depriving them of control of key sites and integrating their members into regular forces — something that has proved elusive in the past.

Talks to unify rival camps launched in September 2017, shortly after Salame took up his post, ground to a halt after one month with Haftar’s role a key sticking point. Many in western Libya oppose him, fearing he could use the position to seize power.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army says it is committed to the election process, in which Haftar himself is a possible candidate.


Divided Arab economic summit: We must help suffering refugees

Updated 21 January 2019
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Divided Arab economic summit: We must help suffering refugees

  • Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil called for 'effective solutions' for the return of Syrian refugees to their country
  • Summit also called for dialogue over growing tensions between Israel and Palestine

BEIRUT: The fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit was held in Beirut on Sunday, in an effort to, among other things, find ways to alleviate the suffering of refugees in the Middle East.

The summit, though attended by representatives from 20 Arab nations, was soured by the absence of most Arab heads of state, and was divided over several issues, including the absence of Syrian delegates, and a boycott by Libya.

The summit did, though, call for dialogue with the international community over growing tensions between Israel and Palestine.

Delegates expressed their support for the Palestinian people, and cited the “collective responsibility” of all parties towards maintaining the city of Jerusalem’s “Islamic and Christian identity.”

In a statement, the summit declared: “We reiterate Palestinian refugees’ rights of return and compensation, according to the UN General Assembly’s resolution 194 of 1948.”

Delegates also discussed at great length the need for international cooperation to support the growing digital economy across the region. They emphasized “the importance of building the necessary capacity” to benefit from the digital economy, and praised the initiative launched by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, to create a sovereign investment fund to support the development of technology in the Gulf and the Middle East.

They urged all Arab nations to “support this initiative to strengthen the joint Arab economy,” and called on other Arab banks and funds to invest in it.

The summit also praised the role of small and medium businesses across the Arab world for their contribution to flourishing Arab economies, as well as the implementation of the Pan-Arab Renewable Energy Strategy 2030, to ensure power across the region becomes cleaner and more sustainable.

The summit was far from harmonious, though, with the Lebanese foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, addressing the hall to ask the international community “to assume its responsibilities by finding effective solutions for the return of Syrian refugees to their country.”

Bassil called on Arab nations and others to “shoulder the burden, honor their commitments and meet the refugees’ needs.”

There were also disputes over the attendance of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, as well as the boycott by Libyan delegates.

“I am saddened because of the absence of the Libyan delegation, and by the circumstances that led to this point,” Arab League president, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said.

Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, echoed the words of his foreign minister, calling on the international community “to exert all efforts to provide the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country, and to present incentives so they can contribute to their country’s reconstruction.”

He proposed the establishment of an international Arab bank to help affected countries overcome the crisis, and invited established Arab funds to Beirut to discuss his proposals.

“I deplore the absence of other Arab presidents and kings, but each of them has his reason. Our union remains of great importance given that we will not be able to address the challenges facing our region and peoples, unless we agree on key issues,” Aoun said.

The next Arab Economic and Social Development Summit will be held in Mauritania in 2023.