France, which owns oil assets in Libya, reportedly sidelined a European Union statement this week calling on the Paris and Moscow-backed Libyan strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar to halt his eastern army’s offensive against forces loyal to the North African country’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
On Thursday, Reuters revealed:
An EU draft statement on Wednesday said Haftar’s attack on Tripoli put civilians at risk, disrupted normalization efforts and risked an escalation with serious consequences for Libya and the wider region. That statement was sidelined by France.
French diplomatic sources said Paris did not object to calls on Haftar to halt his advance, but rather had only requested amendments including mentions of the plight of migrants in Libya and the presence in anti-Haftar forces of Islamist militants designated as terrorists by the United Nations.
On April 4, Haftar — who has seized control of most of Libya with the support of France, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — launched an operation to seize Tripoli from troops fighting on behalf of the U.N.-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
In the wake of the fighting, the U.S. military, which is in Libya to combat jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), “temporarily” pulled its troops out of Libya.
Barring France, most Western countries, including the United States, have called on Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) to stop the offensive.
Haftar has surfaced as the leader of a breakaway government based in eastern Libya’s Tobruk region, placing him on a collision course with the Serraj administration headquartered in Tripoli.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the fighting between the two sides has already killed at least 56 people and wounded 266 others. Clashes have also pushed about 8,000 others out of their homes in Tripoli.
The U.S.- and France-backed overthrow and subsequent execution of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 has plunged Libya into chaos, with the two rival governments vying for power while jihadi groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) use the oil-rich North African country as a safe haven.
France’s opposition to the E.U. statement calling on Haftar to stop his Tripoli offensive has pinned the country against Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler that backs the Serraj faction.
“In Rome, Libya’s former colonial ruler Italy warned France, which has good relations with Haftar, to refrain from supporting any one faction after diplomats said Paris had scuttled a European Union statement calling on him to halt his offensive,” Reuters noted.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini rebuked France for its opposition to the EU statement against Haftar.
In an interview with Italy’s Radio RTL 102.5, Salvini declared, “It would be very serious if France for economic or commercial reasons had blocked an EU initiative to bring peace to Libya and would support a party that is fighting. As minister of the interior, I will not stand by and watch.”
Salvini suggested France’s refusal to rescind its support for Haftar stems from Paris’ economic interests in Libya.
“Some think that the [2011 NATO-led military intervention] in Libya promoted by [then-French President Nicolas] Sarkozy was triggered more by economic and commercial interests than by humanitarian concerns,” he said. “I hope we are not seeing the same film all over again.”
Haftar has rejected U.N. pressure to accept a power-sharing agreement with Serraj to stabilize Libya, “using his leverage as a Western ally against militant Islam in North Africa,” Reuters noted.
However, France 24 reported this week, “While Haftar has sold himself to the West as an anti-Islamist fighter, experts say he has close links to a branch of Salafists called Madkhalists.”