The United Nations envoy for Libya warned countries tempted to continue backing eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar he was no democrat and his political agenda was not supported by many Libyans.
Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), allied to a rival administration in eastern Libya, mounted an offensive on Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised government, three weeks ago but failed to breach defences in the city’s south despite heavy fighting.
The battle for the capital wrecked UN-backed efforts for a peace deal and threatened to further disrupt Libya’s oil industry.
“He is no Abraham Lincoln, he is no big democrat, but he has qualities and wants to unify the country,” Ghassan Salame told France Inter radio, referring to the 19th century US president who led the nation through its Civil War, preserving the union and abolished slavery.
“How is he going to do it? Seeing him act, we can be worried about his methods because where he is governing, he doesn’t govern softly but with an iron fist.”
Salame, whose tone on Haftar appeared tougher, is touring European capitals to secure consensus for a ceasefire and return to peace talks as Western and Arab countries remain divided on the issue.
France, along with the United States, is accused of playing both sides since Haftar launched his offensive. Paris supported Haftar in fighting Islamist militants in Libya while at the same time officially backing the UN-recognised government.
France was criticised by analysts and diplomats after blocking an European Union communique it deemed too one-sided against Haftar. The statement was approved after additions and rewording, although it remained critical of Haftar’s advance.
“I’m suffering from a deep division at the UN Security Council that prevented a British draft passing a resolution to stop firing,” Salame said, referring to a resolution blocked by Russia and the United States.
“The temptation of the strongman is widespread. The problem is the strongman is perhaps not as strong as he seems and that’s the dilemma for those who support him.”
Haftar’s opponents in Libya see him as a budding new autocrat in the mould of Muammar Gaddafi.
Salame was in France after visiting Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler, and he said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told him Paris was backed his efforts for a ceasefire.
“We cannot ignore the General Haftar phenomenon, but one must not go so far as to adopt his political project entirely because his political project is a project which does not suit a good part of the Libyan population,” Salame said.