Libya's Haftar and Russian defence chief agree political settlement is 'only option'

Libya's UN-backed government halted participation in Geneva talks on Tuesday

A smoke rises from a port of Tripoli after being attacked in Tripoli, Libya February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Elumami
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Libya's Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Russia’s defence minister have agreed that a political settlement is the only option for the North African country.

On Wednesday Field Marshal Haftar met Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss ceasefire options.

A day earlier, Libya's Government of National Accord halted its participation in UN talks aimed at brokering a lasting ceasefire in the war-torn country, where a fragile truce has been repeatedly broken.

Russia's Defence Ministry said the two men agreed that there was no alternative way to resolve Libya’s crisis other than by a political one.

It said Field Marshal Haftar and Mr Shoigu reaffirmed their commitment to Libya's "independence, unity and territorial integrity".

The ministry said they discussed the situation in Libya and "the important role of talks" held in Moscow in January ,as well as "the need to fulfil" terms agreed to at an international summit in Berlin last month.

The statement did not say where the meeting took place.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has urged outside interests to push both sides to sit down for peace talks.

"All those who in one way or another influence political or other forces in Libya should stimulate them to sit down for talks," Mr Lavrov said.

"The first steps in this direction were taken but now additional difficulties are coming up again."

On Tuesday, Libya's capital Tripoli was again subjected to a barrage of rocket fire.

It has been the target of a months-long operation by Field Marshal Haftar to oust the GNA and the militias it employs to defend it.

The shaky truce came into effect in January, brokered by Russia, which supports Mr Haftar, and Turkey, which supports the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame earlier on Tuesday launched a second round of talks in Geneva, with five senior officers from the GNA and five appointed by Field Marshal Haftar's forces taking part.

A first round of talks ended with no result this month but Mr Salame said there was "more hope" this time, mainly because of the approval of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a "lasting ceasefire".

The UN Support Mission in Libya said in a statement on Wednesday that it hoped the talks could resume.

"The Mission calls for an end to the escalation and provocative actions, especially expansion of the conflict area, and urges all parties to resort to dialogue as the only means to end the crisis," it said.

Libya has been in turmoil since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, with rival armed factions still vying for power.

Field Marshal Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli last April but after rapid advances his forces stalled on the edges of the capital.

The fighting has left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced about 140,000 according to the UN.

Further talks were planned to start in Geneva on February 26 to find a political solution.

World leaders had agreed at a Berlin summit last month to end all meddling in the conflict and stop the flow of weapons, but little has changed on the ground since then.

EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to launch a naval mission to enforce an arms embargo, which the UN said was being breached by air, land and sea.

The naval operation will be authorised to intervene to stop weapons shipments into the North African state.

On Wednesday, though, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the move.

"I want to specifically mention that the EU does not have the right to make any decision concerning Libya," Mr Erdogan said.

"The EU is trying to take charge of the situation and interfere."

He said Turkey would continue to support the Tripoli-based government to "establish dominance" over the whole country.