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Khalifa Haftar says Russia ‘to fight Libyan arms embargo’

Field Marshal Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army, said Moscow made him the assurance after saying it would only send weapons to Libya once the UN embargo had ended
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (C), the military leader of the Libyan National Army, is greeted upon his arrival at Al Kharouba airport, south of the town of Al Marj, on December 3, 2016, after his visit to Russia. Abdullah Doma/AFP
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (C), the military leader of the Libyan National Army, is greeted upon his arrival at Al Kharouba airport, south of the town of Al Marj, on December 3, 2016, after his visit to Russia. Abdullah Doma/AFP

ROME // Russia will seek to end an arms embargo against Libya and could supply weapons to Khalifa Haftar, whose forces support a rival administration to the UN-backed unity government, the military leader said on Tuesday.

Asked whether he was promised arms during a recent visit to Russia, Field Marshal Haftar said Moscow had told him weapons “can arrive only once the [UN] embargo ends”.

But he was assured that “Putin will undertake to revoke it,” he said in the interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera.

The Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, is recognised by the international community.

But Field Marshal Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army, supports a parallel authority, based in eastern Libya, that controls much of the country’s oil production.

The bitter divisions in the country are matched by those among the powers pushing for democracy in the country.

Western supporters of the GNA have prioritised the fight against ISIL and controlling migration flows from Libya towards Europe.

But another group including Egypt and Russia see Field Marshal Haftar’s forces as the nucleus of a future military, and are suspicious of the Islamist clout in Tripoli.

US secretary of State John Kerry said last month there had been a “significant shift” in efforts to bring the Libyan military leader to the table.

Field Marshal Haftar said he was open to dialogue with GNA head Fayez Sarraj in principle, but it was impossible to talk politics just now.

“We are at war, security issues take precedence. It’s not an opportune time for politics. We need to fight to save the country from Islamic extremists,” he said.

“I began talks with Sarraj two and half years ago. Without any concrete results. Once the extremists have been beaten we can start talking about democracy and elections again. But not now,” he added.

Field Marshal Haftar denied reports of an upcoming meeting with Searraj, saying the last time they had spoken directly was in January 2016.

But he admitted: “I have nothing personally against Sarraj. He is not the problem, it’s those around him.

“If he really wants to fight to make peace in the country, he should take up arms and join our ranks. He is always welcome.”

Libya has been mired in chaos since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with a constellation of militias vying for control of the country.

Field Marshal Haftar complained of countries providing support to the GNA but not the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR), saying “we expect help from everyone to fight ISIL.

“We would be happy to cooperate with Great Britain, France or Germany. Italy too,” he said.

*Agence France-Presse

Updated: January 3, 2017 04:00 AM

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