Turkey Walkout Deals Fresh Blow to Italy’s Libya Talks
Turkey on Tuesday pulled out of Italian-sponsored Libya crisis talks saying it had been “excluded”, dealing a fresh blow to the latest international bid to stabilize the chaos-stricken country.
Turkey walked out after eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar joined a meeting on the conference’s sidelines with his U.N.-backed rival Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and other leaders, but not with Turkish representatives.
The Haftar camp regularly accuses Turkey and Qatar of militarily and financially backing his rivals, including Islamists.
“Any meeting which excludes Turkey would prove to be counter-productive for the solution of this problem,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said in a statement.
“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,” Oktay said.
Haftar arrived in the Sicilian capital of Palermo from his Benghazi stronghold on Monday evening after days of doubts over his crucial presence, but he snubbed the actual conference and a working dinner.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame, European Council President Donald Tusk and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also attended the Sarraj-Haftar meeting, hosted by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ahead of roundtable talks, which were to have included Turkey.
Haftar left Sicily immediately after the meeting.
U.N. envoy Salame told the roundtable talks that “there is no military but only political solutions, and Libyans have to find them. Delaying the political solution only impacts negatively current and future Libyan generations.”
Libya’s “crisis of legitimacy won’t be resolved by finger-pointing,” he tweeted that he had told the closed-door conference.
The North African state has struggled with political instability and violence since the fall of long-time leader Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 civil war. Rival alliances backed by powerful militias have struggled for control since.
‘A fundamental step’
Italy is the latest country aiming to bring Libya’s disparate and often warring factions together after a Paris summit in May saw the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) and Haftar agree to hold national polls on December 10 — a date which has fallen by the wayside.
Russia’s Medvedev said that “it will not be possible to move forward without mutual compromises. Otherwise decisions taken will be broken once again and we will have to meet again.”
“The political solution is just the tip of the iceberg,” Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying.
“If the same broken economy and the different groups that try to steal the potential of this once-unified country remain in the background of these agreements, the political agreement will sooner or later fall by the wayside.”
Acknowledging the chaos since dictator Kadhafi was deposed, the United Nations last week conceded elections will not be viable at least before the spring of 2019.
Haftar, whose forces control all of northeastern Libya, refuses to sit down at the same table as the Islamist leaders he fiercely opposes.
Just as in May, the key Libyan invitees were Haftar, the eastern parliament’s speaker Aguila Salah, G.N.A. head Sarraj and Khaled al-Mechri, speaker of a Tripoli-based upper chamber.
For Rome’s populist government, a top priority is stemming the flow of migrants who exploit Libya’s security vacuum in their quest to reach European shores, often via Italy.
U.N. envoy Salame told the Security Council on Thursday that a national conference in early 2019 would be organized to provide “a platform” for Libyans to spell out their vision for the future.
In September, Italy’s defence minister and parliamentary speaker both partly blamed France for Libya’s security crisis, which continues to simmer seven years after the NATO-backed uprising toppled Kadhafi.
The Italian criticism came as Tripoli was hit by militia clashes that killed at least 117 people and wounded more than 400 between late August and late September.
Rome and Paris have for months been at loggerheads over Libya’s election timetable. While France repeatedly endorsed the December date, Italy opposed it.
Italy has not been alone in pushing for elections to be delayed. December 10 was also viewed sceptically by Washington and Moscow.