Libyan rival leaders strike power-share deal

The leader of Libya's UN-backed government, Fayez al-Sarraj, and his rival Khalifa Haftar, have tentatively agreed to share power and hold elections, raising hopes for an end to the three-year civil war

Khalifa Haftar (L) and Fayez al-Sarraj (R) met in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday
Khalifa Haftar (L) and Fayez al-Sarraj (R) met in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday

Talks between leaders of the two largest rival factions in Libya appear to have reached an outline agreement to share power and hold elections, raising hopes for an end to the three-year civil war.

In a diplomatic breakthrough the leader of the UN-backed government, Fayez al-Sarraj, and his rival Khalifa Haftar met on Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates for two hours.

Haftar, leader of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) whose powerbase is in the east, has spurned international efforts to end Libya's conflict, rejecting Sarraj's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) after it was formed in 2015.

The pair are scheduled to hold further talks with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, next week. Sisi has been critical to the stop-start reconciliation process, along with Italy and the UAE.

Libya has been wracked by internal divisions ever since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 led to the collapse of the economy and oil production, and to a political vacuum in which human trafficking has proliferated, resulting in mass deaths of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Control of the country is split between the UN-backed government in Tripoli and forces loyal to the parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk, which are commanded by Haftar.

No official statement was issued after the Abu Dhabi talks but the unconfirmed reports – initially mainly coming from media sources allied to Haftar – suggest fresh elections will be held within six months and the UN-backed government’s presidency council reduced to three from nine members.

One of the three would be the head of Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament and another the head of the armed forces.

One sticking point has been a clause in the UN-mediated deal giving the GNA's leadership immediate control over military appointments, which eastern factions fear will weaken the LNA.

The UN has been opposed to the head of the armed forces being in full political control of the country and the proposal puts the position within a clear political framework. At the same time an agreement to hand all military appointments to politicians would be revoked.

There is also said to be an agreement on identifying terrorist groups outside the political process and a fresh call to disband militias.

In a statement, Haftar said the two sides wanted "the military establishment... to fully play its role in the fight against terrorism". On his part, Sarraj's statement also said the two sides had agreed to establish "a strategy... to form a unified Libyan army".

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