Libya Rivals Agree on Need for Vote as Haftar Tightens Grip

(Bloomberg) -- Libya’s internationally-backed prime minister and his eastern rival agreed on the need to hold elections to stabilize the North African nation, in their first meeting since Khalifa Haftar’s forces swept through the oil-rich south and redrew the OPEC member’s political map.

The meeting in the United Arab Emirates -- Haftar’s biggest backer -- appeared to yield little else other than a vague statement about uniting the nation’s institutions. Previous agreements to foster unity have failed to deliver discernible changes on the ground.

Still, the fact that Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, Haftar and the UN envoy to Libya met, as well as the venue, reflected a fresh attempt at bridging the divide between the two men and unifying a country’s that’s seen nothing but war since the 2011 uprising that ousted Moammar Al Qaddafi.

Al-Sarraj and Haftar, who controls the self-styled Libyan National Army, met a day earlier in the U.A.E. and “agreed on the necessity of ending the transitional period through general elections” to ensure the stability and to unify its institutions, the UN said on Thursday.

Both leaders had agreed a UN-backed plan for elections in 2019 and a national reconciliation conference when they met in Italy last year. But a January offensive by the LNA, which saw it take over the country’s largest oil field, has cast doubt that a poll will be held this year. The LNA has said elections should be held only when it has secured the country. Al-Sarraj, meanwhile, lacks the kind of military support needed to counter Haftar’s LNA -- the country’s best equipped and trained force.

Ahead of the meeting, officials said Haftar had resisted seeing Al-Sarraj, who is on the back-foot as the LNA presses it southern offensive, and had to be pressured by the U.A.E.

“Haftar’s offensive has emboldened him and his supporters who, in recent weeks, have given signs of refusing to advance political mediation,” said the International Crisis Group’s Claudia Gazzini. “They have also been talking about advancing to Tripoli and it is possible that some of Haftar’s allies, though they support the southern campaign, are now keen to rein in the strongman.”

The UN statement didn’t provide additional details, but the meeting follows a recent meeting between Al-Sarraj, National Oil Corp. head Mustafa Sanalla and other international officials involved in attempting to end the years-long conflict in the country gathered in the U.A.E.

The UN statement mentions a general agreement on the election which, “in my opinion, is a diplomatic way to say there is little agreement on anything else,” said Gazzini, adding that both men have already agreed to the vote.

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