Italian PM to meet Libyan military strongman ‘very soon’

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Pratica di Mare (Italy), May 7 (IANS/AKI) Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday he hoped to meet war-wracked Libya’s eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar for face-to-face talks aimed at de-escalating the deadly battle for the capital, Tripoli,”very soon”.

“Today I spoke with (Libya’s United Nations backed Premier) Sarraj. And I am confident I will hold direct talks with General Haftar in person very soon,” Conte said at Practica di Mare military airport.

Conte was speaking to reporters after talks in Rome on Tuesday with Sarraj towards a truce in the month-long warfare in Tripoli and a political solution to the ongoing conflict.

The battle for Tripoli pits Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army against forces loyal to Sarraj’s internationally recognised government and began on April 5 when Haftar launched a military assault.

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Conte described the current state of the fighting in Tripoli as “a stalemate”.

“There is little movement on the ground in Libya. The Italian government understood the situation from the outset and has continued to rule out military intervention.

“There a stalemate, the situation is critical and could become even more so from one moment to another,” he said.

Opposition from Russia and the US has blocked a UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire in Tripoli, where the UN says at least 432 people have died, 2,069 people have been injured, and over 50,000 have had to flee their homes since Haftar’s offensive began.

Sarraj’s visit to Rome is the first leg of a European tour aimed at mustering support for a truce in Tripoli and opposition to Haftar’s “aggression”, the Sarraj government’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

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Sarraj is visiting Europe with Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and Foreign Minister Mohammed Siala on his trip, according to Libyan broadcaster Al-Ahrar. The ministers are due to travel to Berlin later on Tuesday and from there to Paris and London, it reported.

Libya, a former Italian colony, has been in chaos since the Nato-backed rebellion that led to the fall of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Haftar is allied with a rival administration in the east and it and the UN-recognised government in Tripoli are backed by a myriad of militias vying for control of the oil-rich country.

–IANS/AKI

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