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Libyan strongman Haftar in Russia for 'military talks'

Haftar rejects the authority of the UN-backed government in Tripoli [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 November, 2016

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Khalifa Haftar has refused to acknowledge the UN-backed government in Tripoli, supporting a rival structure based in Tobruk which is also courting military assistance from neighbouring Algeria.
Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar arrived in Moscow on Sunday ahead of planned talks with Russian officials, according to reports from Russian media.

Haftar is set to meet with senior figures including Russian Defence Minister Segei Shaigu, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in addition to the Russian National Security Council during his visit, reported Sputnik

Topics of discussion are likely to include the current situation in Libya where forces are closing in on victory over Islamic State fighters encamped in the coastal city of Sirte, with forces loyal to Haftar having recently proclaimed victory in Benghazi

Haftar’s visit comes on the same day that the President of the Libyan parliament in Tobruk Aguila Saleh Issa is reported to have requested military assistance form Algeria, according to informed Algerian sources who spoke to The New Arab’s Arabic edition. 

Haftar previously visited Moscow in June. 

Following the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011 in an uprising assisted by NATO, Libya descended into a civil war with rival governments established in Tripoli and Tobruk, in the east of the country. 

Internal chaos enabled the Islamic State group to take advantage and establish a foothold in the country.

The Tripoli based government lead by Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj has the backing of the UN.

However, the Tobruk government, which counts on Haftar for military support, has received backing from neighbouring Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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The rivalry has raised concerns that even following the predicted defeat of the Islamic State in Sirte, infighting could lead to further conflict in the already war-torn country. 

In one provocative move, forces loyal to Haftar seized a number of oil ports in the country in June.

Following Haftar’s visit to Moscow the same month, figures within the Kremlin expressed support for the Tobruk government as Libya’s “legitimately elected legislative body” while also stating that the Sarraj government in Tripoli is also “in principle legitimate.”

Sarraj is said to have met with Russia’s ambassador to Libya Ivan Molotkov in October, with discussions of enhanced military cooperation also said to have been on the table at that time. 

Speaking earlier this year Molotkov said it's “quite natural” both parties were seeking support from Moscow.

“It is not Libya’s opposing sides but the whole of Libya that seeks Russia’s support. They understand that without us it would be very difficult to overcome the existing crisis. It is therefore quite natural that different parties want to meet with us and ask us for moral and material support.”

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