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Haftar rejects Macron's calls for Libyan ceasefire at talks in Paris

Philippe Wojazer, REUTERS | Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, arrives to attend an international conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 29, 2018 (File photo)

Libyan rebel commander Khalifa Haftar rejected calls for a ceasefire during talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris but is willing to negotiate if certain conditions are met, an Élysée official said Wednesday.

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Macron and French officials have for several weeks called for an unconditional ceasefire in the battle for Tripoli, which began in early April when Haftar launched an offensive on the Libyan capital. The fighting pits Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army against militias allied with the UN-recognised government in Tripoli led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

“The distrust we see between the Libyan actors is stronger than ever today,” said a French presidential official after the meeting between Macron and Haftar in Paris.

The Élysée official did not say what conditions Haftar wanted in place before further talks but said the rebel commander had questioned who would be on the other side of the table in any ceasefire negotiations.

“He considers that the GNA (the UN-backed Government of National Unity led by Sarraj) is completely infested by militias and it is not for him to negotiate with representatives of these militias.”

The official said Haftar had justified his offensive by saying he is fighting against "private militias and extremist groups" who are gaining influence in the capital. Haftar's forces, based in the country's east, are battling rival militias loosely allied with Sarraj's government.

>> Haftar's offensive ‘ended hopes for political agreement’, Libyan PM Sarraj tells FRANCE 24

The closed-door meeting with Haftar came two weeks after Macron hosted Libya’s struggling UN-backed prime minister, who has denounced Haftar’s offensive as an attempted coup. Macron’s office has publicly expressed support for Sarraj but is suspected of secretly backing Haftar as a way of combating militant extremists. French officials have not openly addressed these claims.

Political scientist William Lawrence on Haftar's ceasefire snub

The death toll from the recent fighting stands at 430, according to the United Nations, with some 55,000 displaced or trapped.

The UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, warned on Tuesday that the oil-rich nation was “on the verge of descending into a civil war” that could imperil its neighbours. Salame told the Security Council that extremists from the Islamic State group and al Qaeda are already exploiting the security vacuum.

Haftar presents himself as a strong hand that can restore stability after years of chaos that transformed Libya into a haven for armed groups and a major conduit for migrants bound for Europe.

His opponents, however, view him as an aspiring autocrat and fear the country could return to one-man rule as under longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted and killed in 2011.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)

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