Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting

Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, left, and Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar in Athens — days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin which Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognized government are expected to attend. (AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2020

Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting

Libya strongman Haftar in Greece ahead of peace meeting
  • Greece seeking to build ties with Haftar after the GNA signed a maritime and military cooperation deal with Turkey in November
  • Haftar thanked Vladimir Putin for his efforts to bring peace in Libya after Moscow announced that the Russian leader would attend Sunday’s conference

ATHENS: Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar was holding talks in Athens on Friday two days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin, which he and the head of Tripoli’s government Fayez Al-Sarraj are expected to attend.

Haftar thanked Vladimir Putin, his “dear friend,” for his efforts to bring peace in Libya after Moscow announced that the Russian leader would attend Sunday’s conference.

However, Russia’s acting foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Haftar and Al-Sarraj could not even bear each other’s presence, let alone talk.

“So far ties between them are very tense, they don’t even want to be in the same room to say nothing of meeting each other,” Lavrov said.

World powers are trying to mediate a lasting cease-fire nine months after Haftar’s forces launched an assault on Tripoli, sparking fighting that has killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands.

The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash expressed his country's "unreserved support" for German efforts to find a solution and end to the Libyan conflict on Twitter on Friday.

An interim truce that came into force on Sunday has mostly held, despite accusations of violations from Haftar’s forces and the rival Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar walked away from cease-fire talks in Moscow on Monday, but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited his eastern Libya stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday to persuade him to join the Berlin conference.

He flew to Athens on a surprise visit on Thursday, with Greece seeking to build ties with Haftar after the GNA signed a maritime and military cooperation deal with Turkey in November.

Athens is vehemently opposed to the contentious Turkish deal with Libya, which claims much of the Mediterranean for energy exploration in conflict with rival claims by Greece and Cyprus.

Haftar met Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and they were holding further talks on Friday. He is also set to meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Greece is seeking to take part in the Berlin talks but has yet to be invited.

Haftar agreed in principle on Thursday to go to Berlin after Al-Sarraj signalled he would be there.

But Sarraj, whose GNA did sign up to a permanent truce deal in Moscow, cast doubt over Haftar’s intentions after he refused to sign.

Meanwhile, protesters in eastern Libya entered the Zueitina oil terminal on Friday and announced its closure in response to calls by tribal leaders, a port engineer and witnesses told Reuters.

The tribal leaders are from eastern and southern Libya, areas controlled by military commander Khalifa Haftar. 

The state oil company, NOC, said the country's oil and gas industry should not be used as a "card for political bargaining".

However, the Zueitina engineer said "the terminal is still receiving oil and a tanker entered it today". Reuters could not verify whether exports had been halted and NOC was not immediately available for comment.

The tribal leaders on Thursday called for oil terminals to be shut and accused the internationally recognised government in Tripoli of using oil revenue to pay foreign fighters.

Scores of protesters erected a large tent outside the Zueitina terminal. They read a statement saying they planned to shut all oil terminals in eastern Libya.

The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Numerous countries have since become involved — the GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar, while Haftar has the support of neighboring Egypt as well as Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

The United Nations said the Berlin talks aim to end foreign interference and division over Libya.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will take part and voiced support for truce efforts, the State Department said on Thursday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for firm support for the peace talks and asked for a halt in the fighting.

In a report to the Security Council he warned against “external interference,” saying it would “deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a clear international commitment to a peaceful resolution of the underlying crisis.”

The conference will aim to agree six points — including a permanent cease-fire, implementation of a much-violated UN arms embargo and a return to political efforts for peace, Guterres said.

Turkish troops have been deployed to support the GNA, while Russia, despite its denials, is suspected of supporting Haftar with weapons, money and mercenaries.

Some 11 countries and several international organizations are set to attend along with the Libyan parties.

The fighting has spurred a growing exodus of migrants, many embarking on rickety boats toward Italy.

Nearly 1,000 intercepted at sea have been forced to return to the war-ravaged country since January 1, mostly ending up in detention, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday.


UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts
Updated 23 January 2021

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts
  • Geir Pederson wants enhanced international diplomacy, and tighter focus on progress in drafting new constitution
  • The fifth session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee begins in Geneva on Monday

NEW YORK: Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, on Friday called for “more serious and cooperative” international diplomacy as part of political efforts to improve the lives of the Syrian people and develop a vision for the future of their country.

Speaking ahead of the fifth session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which begins on Monday in Geneva, he also urged committee members to focus their efforts and work more effectively to speed up progress on constitutional reform.

Pedersen expressed hope that much-needed international engagement with the peace process is now possible.

“After all, despite the differences, key states are continuing to reaffirm their commitment to Resolution 2254,” he added, referring to the UN Security Council resolution, adopted in 2015, that calls for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.

Pedersen, who briefed the Security Council this week on the latest developments, highlighted the fact that five foreign armies are active in Syria and “violations of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity (have been) going on for years.”

Although the ceasefire agreement reached by Russia and Turkey in the northwest of the country resulted in a de-escalation of hostilities, Pedersen warned that this relative calm remains fragile.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) 

“All of these issues cannot be sorted out by the Syrians alone,” he said. (They) need an international cooperation (and) a real exchange of views (among all parties).

“If that political will is lacking it would be very, very difficult to move this process forward ... if you leave this to the UN alone, we will not be able to succeed.”

Top on the agenda on Monday will be discussion of the basic principles of the Syrian constitution. Pedersen said he has been meeting with the two co-chairs of the committee on a regular basis, and has also had intensive discussions with the “Middle Third” civil-society group, which includes society activists and experts and other independents from inside and outside of Syria.

His experiences during the past year, he said, lead him to believe there is potential for finding common ground. No single actor or group of actors can impose its will on Syria or settle the conflict alone — they must work together, he added.

The time has now come for the co-chairs of the Constitutional Committee to organize and focus its efforts by establishing “more effective and operational working methods,” Pedersen said, so that they can begin to move forward from preparing constitutional reforms to actually drafting them, and agreeing on clear agendas and discussion topics for future meetings.

“There needs to be more urgency (in) delivering progress in this process,” he added.

As he saluted the work of civil society groups and “all the Syrians who do what they can to improve the situation on the ground and support a political process,” Pedersen singled out women in particular for praise. He has been particularly proactive in seeking input from the Women’s Advisory Board.

“It is a priority for all of us to make sure that we have full participation of Syrian women in the political process,” he said. “(Promoting) their core constitutional rights is central for me, as the facilitator of the work of the Constitutional Committee.”

Asked about plans for large-scale prisoner swaps, Pedersen said that although this is not on the agenda for the talks in Geneva this week, it is always part of his own agenda. The disappointment over the lack of progress on the issue so far means “that we should work even harder” on it, he added.

“This is a file that really has an impact on nearly every Syrian family, and it needs to be addressed,” he said. “(I) have appealed (for) more information on the missing. (We) need to see the early release of women, children, the elderly and the sick, and I think (nothing) should stop that from happening.”

The members of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee are due to arrive in Geneva on Saturday, and Pedersen will consult with the co-chairs over the weekend before the main talks begin on Monday.

Asked whether he expects this latest round of negotiations to be a success for the UN, Pedersen said: “I really do not think this is the question; the question (is) whether it is a success for the Syrian people and (their) aspirations.

“My hope has been that the Constitutional Committee, if it is handled in the correct manner, could start to build trust and (be) a door-opener for a broader political process.

“But the (committee) cannot work in isolation ... we need political will from the different parties to be able to move forward.”

He added: “The (committee) is just one aspect, and it is not the one aspect that will solve the Syrian crisis. If we are to see changes in the situation on the ground, there are other factors that need to be discussed.”