Libyan com­man­der seeks Rus­sian help to fight mil­i­tants


MOSCOW: Libyan mil­i­tary com­man­der Khal­ifa Haf­tar, the dom­i­nant fig­ure in the di­vided coun­try’s east, met Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov on Tues­day and said he was seek­ing Moscow’s help in his fight against mil­i­tants at home.

Haf­tar, on his sec­ond visit to Moscow since the sum­mer, re­quested mil­i­tary sup­port from the Krem­lin in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian me­dia. It was un­clear on Tues­day if such help would be forth­com­ing.

“Our re­la­tions are cru­cial, our goal to­day is to give life to th­ese re­la­tions,” the TASS news agency quoted Haf­tar as say­ing at the start of talks with Lavrov.

“We hope we will elim­i­nate ter­ror­ism with your help in the near­est fu­ture.”

Libya splin­tered into ri­val po­lit­i­cal and armed group­ings af­ter the up­ris­ing that top­pled Muam­mar Qaddafi in 2011 and re­mains deeply di­vided be­tween fac­tions based in the east and west that back ri­val gov­ern­ments and par­lia­ments.

Haf­tar, who is aligned with the east- ern par­lia­ment and gov­ern­ment, has been fight­ing a two- year mil­i­tary cam­paign with his Libyan Na­tional Army against mil­i­tants and other op­po­nents in Beng­hazi and else­where in the east. Many sus­pect he seeks na­tional power.

Don­ning a Rus­sian fur hat as he en­tered the snow-lashed For­eign Min­istry, Haf­tar told Lavrov he had met Rus­sian De­fense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu on Mon­day to tell him about his mil­i­tary needs.

Haf­tar has re­ceived pub­lic backing from Egypt and the United Arab Emi­rates, and France sent spe­cial forces to work along­side Haf­tar’s Libyan Na­tional Army ear­lier this year. Re­cent mil­i­tary ad­vances by Haf­tar’s forces have boosted his pop­u­lar­ity at home.

A UN arms em­bargo in place since 2011 pro­hibits the trans­fer of weapons into Libya. Only the coun­try’s UN-backed gov­ern­ment in Tripoli, which Haf­tar op­poses, can bring in weapons and re­lated ma­teriel with the ap­proval of a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil com­mit­tee.

When asked, the Krem­lin did not say whether it might of­fer Haf­tar any mil­i­tary sup­port, de­scrib­ing the talks with him as busi­ness as usual.

“Moscow is in touch with var­i­ous Libyan rep­re­sen­ta­tives and con­tacts with Haf­tar take place as part of this process,” Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tues­day.

Haf­tar’s al­lies have pre­vi­ously cul­ti­vated ties with Rus­sia, which printed ban­knotes for an eastern break­away branch of Libya’s cen­tral bank.

“We spoke in gen­eral,” Haf­tar told reporters af­ter the talks with Lavrov.

“We ex­plained our po­si­tion with re­gards to arms sup­plies. As a great coun­try, Rus­sia re­spects the arms em­bargo un­til it in­di­cates it is an un­just ver­dict.”

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has blamed the West for pur­su­ing poli­cies that he said led to civil wars in Libya and Syria. Rus­sia launched a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to sup­port Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad last year.

Mar­shal Khal­ifa Haf­tar, chief of the so-called Libyan Na­tional Army, leaves the main build­ing of Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry af­ter a meet­ing with Rus­sian min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs in Moscow on Wed­nes­day. (AFP)

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