By Alessandra Bocchi and Hadi Fornaji.
Tunis, 23 February 2017:
A meeting yesterday in Benghazi between Tunisian opposition leader Mohsen Marzouk and Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter has been welcomed by Hafter’s office but has caused something of a stir back in Tunis.
In a statement, the office of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi noted that it had had nothing to do with the meeting and had only learned about it as a result of a telephone call.
Tunisia’s efforts to help resolve the Libyan crisis, it added, were being coordinated through the Tunisian foreign ministry which was the only body to conduct the country’s foreign policy.
It stressed, though, that the Tunisian authorities very much looked forward to welcoming Hafter in Tunis “at the first opportunity”.
It is not clear why Marzouk flew with his party delegation to visit Hafter – a visit that appears to have come out of the blue, and surprised the field marshal and his colleagues.
Marzouk had been a top member of the Tunisian president’s Nidaa Tounes party but split to form his own Machrou Tounes party last year. He is now seen as a major rival to Essebsi.
Marzouk defined his visit as “a respect for the historical relations between the Tunisian and Libyan population”. He also stated that his party had no diplomatic role to play between the two countries but equally noted that he and Haftar “have had an exchange of opinions on the regional situation and the necessity of joint battles against terrorism”.
Haftar’s office described the relationship between Tunisia and Libya as “historical”, claiming that the security of both countries and the fight to eradicate terrorism were points of common interest.