Contrasting realities in Libya for French minister’s visit

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is received by east Libyan government air force commander Saqr Al-Jaroushi at Benina airport near Benghazi, Libya, Libya. (Reuters)
Updated 22 December 2017

Contrasting realities in Libya for French minister’s visit

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI: A hundred meters from the office of Libyan Prime Minister Fayaz Al-Seraj in Tripoli, guards at a detention center for migrants had a message for a visiting French delegation: No minister, no journalists, nobody is allowed in.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went to Libya on Thursday to revive UN talks between rival groups controlling the west and east, with a view to stabilizing a nation in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
But the Tripoli leg of the visit showed how difficult it will be to find anyone capable of imposing authority, with a weak UN-backed government depending on an array of armed factions, each with its own agenda.
After meeting Al-Seraj in his impressive office, Le Drian was meant to visit the nearby detention facility to see conditions for African migrants caught as they try to reach Europe.
But after CNN aired a video appearing to show migrants being auctioned off as slaves, Libyan officials are on edge, with guards refusing to let the French visitors through the detention camp’s thick steel door.
“What do you want to call it? ” said a visibly tetchy man who described himself as the supervisor. “It is a detention center. Nobody is allowed. Not the minister and not journalists. Not allowed.”
French officials played down the incident, saying there had been no time for a visit anyway.
But it was symptomatic of how Al-Seraj’s government is struggling to make an impact, failing to fix anything from electric power cuts to a collapsing currency.
Al-Seraj promised to tackle migrant trafficking, but French officials say that will depend on which armed groups are prepared to help him.

Polished boots
While armed factions are vying for control in Tripoli, power in Benghazi is in the hands of one man, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, whose forces have driven out fighters.
“It’s a lot more ordered here. There’s no doubt here that there is just one chief,” said a European security contractor in Benghazi.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army is made up of different groups, which he struggles at times to control.
But the general, who hopes to run for the Libyan presidency nest year, sought to impress his French visitor with as much fanfare as possible.
Soldiers stood at strategic points, uniforms spotless and boots polished, in contrast to other parts of Libya, where armed groups are more informally dressed in a mixture of uniforms and civilian clothes.
Opponents accuse Haftar of Qaddafi-style high-handedness and of trying to revive a police state, something his supporters vehemently deny.
He did not leave his office during the French visit, leaving Le Drian to review air, sea and land forces as a military band struggled to play La Marseillaise.
Haftar’s aides did not allow journalists to film his meeting with Le Drian with their phones.
“I appreciate the frankness of our exchanges,” Le Drian said after an hour-long discussion. “That’s quite natural,” Haftar responded loftily.
Haftar is attempting to position himself as a presidential candidate, but there is still sporadic fighting in Benghazi despite his having declared victory in July.
One diplomat recalled how Haftar was envious of Al-Seraj after he met US President Donald Trump in Washington last month, perhaps sensing a shift in the Libyan balance of power.
“I don’t know how comfortable he (Haftar) is feeling, because I sense that this time the security was much more stringent than when we were last here (in August),” said a French official. “He may be feeling some pressure.”


Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

Updated 14 min 47 sec ago

Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

  • EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities as demanded by the US is not a genuine cease-fire
  • He calls on Ankara to immediately stop military operations,

BRUSSELS/ANKARA: Macron critizes Turkey's aggression in Syria as "madness', bewails NATO inaction

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has bemoaned Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria as “madness” and decried NATO’s inability to react to the assault as a “serious mistake.”

“It weakens our credibility in finding partners on the ground who will be by our side and who think they will be protected in the long term. So that raises questions about how NATO functions.”

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities is not a genuine cease-fire and called on Ankara to immediately stop military operations in Syria.

Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the cease-fire had unclear goals. 

There was no mention of the scope of the area that would be under Turkish control and, despite US Vice President Mike Pence referring to a 20-mile zone, the length of the zone remains ambiguous, she said.

Selim Sazak, a doctoral researcher at Brown University, believed the agreement would be implemented and the YPG would withdraw.

“The agency of the YPG is fairly limited. If the deal collapses because of the YPG, it’s actually all the better for Ankara,” he told Arab News. “What Ankara originally wanted was to take all of the belt into its control and eliminate as many of the YPG forces as possible. Instead, the YPG is withdrawing with a portion of its forces and its territory intact. Had the deal collapsed because of the YPG, Ankara would have reason to push forward, this time with much more legitimacy.”