By Michel Cousins.
Paris, 25 July 2017:
Presidency Council head Faiez Serraj and his foreign minister Mohamed Siala were said this evening to have arrived in Paris for tomorrow’s talks with Libyan National Army head Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter. Reports that Hafter has been in the French capital for the past day or so cannot be confirmed, however. The French authorities have kept a tight control over the news about the meeting. Even this morning the Elysée Palace media office said that it still did not have full details about the encounter.
The French President Emmanuel Macron, who has invited the two, hopes that another face-to-face meeting between them can create a working relationship and bring the current division to an end.
In a statement this afternoon, the Elysée said that Macron would meet the two for consultations on getting the Libya out if its crisis. The French initiative, it said, was aimed and bringing about a political agreement between them at the point when the new UN special envoy, Ghassan Salamé, was about to take up his post.
Salamé will take part in the proceedings.
The statement added that, under the aegis of the UN, France backed all efforts to bring to bring about a political compromise in Libya that involved all the various players in the country.
“The challenge is to build a state capable of meeting the basic needs of Libyans and endowed with a regular and unified army under the authority of the civil power,” the statement read. “It is a necessity for the control of Libya’s territory and its borders to fight terrorist groups, and arms and migrant traffickers,” it noted, adding that this was also necessary if there were to be a return to stable, institutional life in the country.
The talks will take place west of Paris at the French foreign ministry-owned chateau at La Celle-Saint-Cloud.
With Hafter feeling very much strengthened by his defeat of the extremists in Benghazi, it is open to question whether the French objectives will succeed.
France has meanwhile moved to reassure the Italians that it is not trying to propel Hafter to power and ditch the Presidency Council, which Rome backs fully.
“In this matter [Libya], we can do nothing, one without the other. It’s an issue we share,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano in Rome today.
Le Drian, however, is known to want greater international and European backing for Hafter.