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Russia urges leadership role for Libya's Haftar

General Khalifa Haftar's forces are allied to Libya's House of Representatives [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 December, 2016

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Moscow gives its strongest message of support yet for Libya's government's rival General Khalifa Haftar, accusing the UN of stalling the divided country's political process.
Russia has given its backing to Libya's General Khalifa Haftar, who opposes the country's UN-backed government, saying that he should be given a leadership role in the war-torn state.

The call, made by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, are Russia's strongest endorsement of the Gaddafi-era general yet.

"We believe that the Libyans have to find a compromise on his [Haftar's] participation in the new Libyan leadership," Gatilov told Bloomberg.

The deputy foreign minister also criticised the United Nations' envoy to Libya for favouring the country's Government of National Accord over Haftar and his allies in Tobruk.

For his part, UN envoy Martin Kobler earlier this month said that Russia should support the Tripoli-based GNA because "the consensus of the international community is important".

Following military victory in Aleppo, Moscow is increasing its focus on Libya as part of a wider effort to restore its influence in the Middle East. This comes after Russia lost at least $4 billion in arms contracts and much more in energy and transportation deals in the North African nation when long time dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 by an uprising backed by NATO powers.

Haftar has been received twice in Moscow in the past six months, where he met with Russian ministers and the country's national security chief in a bid to shore up support.

This cooperation between Haftar's eastern stronghold and Moscow means that Russia will supply his military force with military experts and will be printing money for a branch of the central bank in Libya's east.

Regarding this, the UN's envoy to Libya has called upon nations to refrain from "efforts to strike separate deals with part of the Libyan political establishment behind the back of other influential players". Kobler has also said that such actions do not "help to advance the political process in Libya".

Haftar, once a long-time ally of Gaddafi, has allied his forces to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives which does not recognise the authority of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's Tripoli government.

In September, Haftar's forces seized control of most of Libya's oil installations, though has continued to funnel revenues to Libya's central bank.

Having positioned himself as a fighter of Islamist extremists, Moscow are also using this angle as a key justification of their support for the general. 

Last week, France, Italy, Germany, the United States and Britain renewed their support for the GNA and "condemned any threat of recourse to military force" in Libya.

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