Italy hosting Libya conference


Italy is hosting a Libya conference aiming to push a new UN plan to stabilise the troubled North African country after an initiative to hold elections next month failed.

Last week, UN Envoy Ghassan Salame abandoned a Western plan to stage national elections on December 10 as way out of conflict raging in the oil producer since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Instead the United Nations, which has been trying to mediate for years, wants to first hold a national conference to reconcile a country divided between rival armed groups, tribes, towns and regions.

Western powers who helped topple Gaddafi left Libya in chaos, allowing militias and radical Islamist groups to grow.

Worried about Libya turning into a source of instability on the shores of Europe, European powers recently paid Libya more attention and diplomats hope the two-day meeting in Palermo will keep up that interest.

France hosted a summit in May during which the main Libyan rivals pledged to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in December.

Weeks of fighting between militias in Tripoli, as well as deadlock between rump parliaments in Tripoli and the east, made that plan unrealistic.

Italy hopes the conference will keep pressure on Libyan stakeholders to overcome their divisions.

The OPEC oil producer has two governments, a UN-backed administration in the capital and a largely powerless eastern version aligned with veteran commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control much of the east.

Italian officials were scrambled at the weekend to secure Haftar’s presence. If he shows up, it will be his first meeting with Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj since the Paris summit, analysts said.

Also in attendance will be the internationally recognised House of Representatives, as well as the State Council, a rival assembly.

Western diplomats hope the meeting will overcome differences between Italy and France, which both have extensive oil interests in Libya but use different approaches to resolve the conflict.

France has been courting Haftar, supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see his forces as a bulwark against Islamists.

Italy is the main backer of Serraj and his weak Government of National Accord (GNA) has worked with local groups in Libya to stop Europe-bound migrants from leaving.

Western power want the Serraj government to enact economic reforms to a system they say gives Libya’s multitude of armed groups easy access to cheap dollars.

Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September, including a fee on purchases of foreign currency, can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes as long as the central bank remains divided and predatory factions retain their positions.