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article imageOp-Ed: Meeting with Libyan eastern commander Haftar of doubtful value

By Ken Hanly     May 2, 2017 in Politics
Abu Dhabi - Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army(LNA) associated with the eastern-based government of the House of Representatives (HoR) was to a meeting in United Arab Emirates (UAE) just three weeks ago.
The last meeting was at the invitation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. He is said to have met secretly with a US official at that time. The present meeting too is at the invitation of Sheikh Mohammed who is not just the crown prince of Abu Dhabi but deputy commander of the UAE armed forces. The UAE organized a meeting of Haftar with the head of the Presidential Council(PC) of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Faiez Serraj. There has been pressure from many quarters to have Serraj meet with Haftar, including Egypt, Russia, and the US.
In February, Haftar had refused to meet with Serraj in Cairo after the Egyptian government had one planned. Apparently, he refused because the head of the HoR, Ageela Saleh was in Cairo at the time and Haftar felt he should attend as well. Egypt was apparently angered at Haftar's action and relations seem to have cooled somewhat. Egyptian president Abdel el-Sisi has been a staunch supporter of Haftar. The UAE has also been a prime supporter of Haftar, providing him with equipment and probably bombing Tripoli several times on his behalf back in 2014.
A BBC post notes that Western governments have recently appeared to take on a more serious mediation role in order to end the political and military impasse in the country. As the article notes Haftar refuses to recognize the authority of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord accepted by the UN and most countries as the legitimate government. A UN resolution states that countries should not meet with officials of parallel Libyan institutions that do no recognize the GNA. However, countries do so all the time. Last April a UN Security Council Statement said: The members of the Security Council renewed their call in resolution 2259 (2015) on Member States to cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions that claim to be the legitimate authority, but are outside of the Libyan Political Agreement as specified by it. Numerous countries have had meetings with Haftar who heads the parallel LNA and with Ageela Saleh who heads the HoR parallel government and is actually sanctioned. The article notes that one of the prime reasons that Haftar does not accept the GNA is because under the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) that sets up the GNA section 8 gives the function of commander in chief of the Libyan Armed Forces to the PC rather than him. He wants to remain commander in chief.
The HoR last rejected the required motion of confidence in the GNA required by the LPA last August 22. Virtually nothing has been accomplished since then. There was supposed to be a new cabinet presented within ten days. There is still no new cabinet nor any amendment to the LPA. One of the conditions that the HoR has set for even participating in a dialogue is the deletion of section 8. It is highly likely that many members of the PC, GNA, and the High State Council, will reject the deletion of section 8 and refuse to accept Haftar as commander in chief of a united Libyan armed forces within a unified GNA. The BBC article concludes: Today there are signs that both sides may be willing to give an inch over the matter to reach a workable compromise. How long that will take in Libya’s snail-paced ‘progress’ is anyone’s guess.
The latest article from Al Jazeera says nothing about what the meeting accomplished: Both men were expected to discuss army-related amendments to an agreement signed by the Libyan factions in Morocco in December 2015, according to Abu Bakr Baeira, a member of the eastern parliament. Libyan television broadcaster 218 reported that the two held talks "in private" after posing for a photograph together. Emirati officials did not immediately comment.
However there is lots of activity on Twitter that remains to be confirmed. Several tweets claim that an agreement was reached between the two. One says: Under deal, "presidential and parliamentary elections to be held within 6 months of agreement coming into effect." (al-Arabiya). Another says: 3-person presidency council including Serraj & speakers of Tripoli & Tobruq parliaments will serve as "supreme commander of armed forces". An article in Arabiya however notes that there was no official statement at the end of the meetings. In other words, there is no official confirmation of any agreement. The news about agreements comes from interested parties. Al Arabiya speaks of sources close to Haftar as saying that the talks were positive. Libya 218 channel, a pro-Haftar TV outlet said that he and Serraj had agreed to canceling the clause and to form a restructured unity government. A source in Abu Dhabi said: “It was agreed to open permanent channels of communication and to form two working groups to complete an agreement on the details of the formation of a government and the military arrangements between officers from all regions." The source also said that they had an agreement to hold parliamentary elections no later than March 2018. The paper notes that there was no comment from the GNA.
Until there is further confirmation it is not clear what is happening. It would seem unlikely that the PC or the High Council would agree to deleting Section 8. While replacing it with a clause that makes Serraj plus the speakers of the Tobruq and Tripoli parliament's function as supreme commander might be acceptable to the PC and Council, it is somewhat surprising that Haftar would accept it. However, perhaps he thinks he can run for president and become Abdel el_Sisi the second. There now may be another unlikely scheme by international forces to involve Libya in possibly even more chaos. As of now, there is no speaker of the Tripoli parliament since until the GNA is approved by the HoR there is no GNA parliament. Or perhaps the HIgh State Council is parliament for now as it declared last September! Is Sewehli the planned third member of the PC!
UPDATE: A new article has just appeared in the Libya Herald about the Serraj Haftar meeting. It shows how unreliable reports about what happened are. The Herald sources are "unconfirmed reports". The reports differ wildly from others. For example, the narrative about the Presidential Council changes: The formation of a new presidency council to comprise a president plus the head of the House of Representatives and the general commander of the Libyan armed forces". The report also claims section 8 of the LPA will be deleted. So the third member of the PC would be Haftar. This might suit Haftar but it is non-starter with most members of the PC and the High State Council. Apparently Egyptian President el-Sisi is to join Haftar and Serraj in Cairo next week for further discussions. The official plan by the UAE and Egypt to help Haftar take over Libya may be unveiled then.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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