Libya’s PM Sarraj meets eastern commander Haftar in Palermo

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) posing with head of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj (L) and Libya Chief of Staff,Khalifa Haftar in Palermo. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018
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Libya’s PM Sarraj meets eastern commander Haftar in Palermo

  • Premier Giuseppe Conte presided over a handshake between the two Libyan leaders at a conference on the country in Palermo
  • UN Libyan envoy Ghassan Salame said Haftar, had committed himself to a UN action plan

PALERMO: Italy’s premier on Tuesday hosted a meeting of Libya's rival leaders on the sidelines of a conference aimed at helping its former colony crack down on extremists and human trafficking.

Photos of the encounter showed Premier Giuseppe Conte presiding over a handshake between the Tripoli-based UN-backed prime minister, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and rival Gen. Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army that is based in Libya's east.

Later, UN Libyan envoy Ghassan Salame said Haftar, had committed himself to a UN action plan and to holding a national conference early next year prior to elections.

“Haftar is committed to the political process,” Salame told reporters at the end of a reconciliation conference in Italy. “His representatives said that.”

The exclusion of Turkey from the mini-summit prompted the Turks to pull out early, adding drama to the two-day conference at a resort on the picturesque Sicilian seaside.

Other leaders attending the Palermo conference, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who backs Haftar, confirmed he joined the “mini-summit” Tuesday with Conte and other leaders.

Italy's populist government organized the two-day conference in hopes of making progress on ending Libya's lawlessness and promoting a UN framework for eventual elections.

But expectations were limited, with Haftar's camp making clear that he wasn't participating in the conference itself but rather meeting with leaders of neighboring countries on the sidelines. Neither Haftar nor El-Sisi posed for the final conference group photo.

And Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay pulled out before it ended, citing his exclusion from the morning mini-summit.

“The informal meeting, held this (morning) with a number of players and having them presented as the prominent protagonists of the Mediterranean, is a very misleading and damaging approach which we vehemently oppose,” he told reporters.

“Turkey is leaving the meeting with deep disappointment,” he said.

An Italian diplomatic official, briefing reporters in Palermo, said the atmosphere of the mini-meeting was cordial and collaborative and that Haftar told Sarraj to stay in charge until the elections.

A statement on social media Tuesday by a spokesman for Haftar's army, Ahmed Al-Mesmari, suggested that Haftar was snubbing the broader conference because he accuses representatives from the Tripoli side of working with militias he considers illegitimate, as well as extremists backed by Qatar.

In an interview provided by his media office, Haftar said he wanted to meet with African leaders in particular to discuss migration.

“We are still at war, and the country needs to secure its borders,” Haftar said.

Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and it is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west with both relying on the support of militias.

It has also become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking, particularly in the remote south of the country.

Italy's anti-migrant government is keen in particular to stem the Libyan-based migrant smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of would-be refugees to Europe via Italy in recent years. 


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 16 min 27 sec ago
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”