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Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar will hold talks in Athens on Friday, days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin which he and the head of Tripolis UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj are expected to attend.
The talks come as world powers step up efforts for a lasting ceasefire, nine months since an assault on Tripoli by Haftars forces sparked fighting that has killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters, displacing tens of thousands.
An interim truce that came into force Sunday has mostly held, despite accusations of violations from Haftars forces and the rival Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
Haftar flew to Athens by private plane on Thursday and was taken to a luxury Athens hotel where he was met by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias for an initial round of talks, TV footage showed.
He is scheduled to talk to Dendias again on Friday before meeting Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, sources working on the negotiations told AFP.
Greece has sought a more active role in Libya after the GNA in Tripoli signed a maritime and military cooperation memorandum with Turkey in November carving out energy spheres of influence in the Mediterranean.
The Turkish deal claims much of the Mediterranean for energy exploration, conflicting with rival claims by Greece and Cyprus.
Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said Athens will veto any agreement brought before the EU for approval unless the contentious agreement is dropped.
Haftar agreed “in principle” Thursday to attend a peace conference in Berlin after Sarraj signalled he would be present.
Haftar had walked away from ceasefire talks in Moscow on Monday, but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited his eastern Libya stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday to persuade him to join the conference.
Foreign Minister @HeikoMaas after meetings in Benghazi:
General Haftar has signaled his readiness to contribute to the success of the Libya Conference in Berlin and is willing to participate. He has repeated his commitment to observe the existing ceasefire. pic.twitter.com/tP6KjeuBNO
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) January 16, 2020
Haftar “wants to contribute to the success of the Libyan conference in Berlin and is in principle ready to participate in it,” Maas tweeted, calling it “the best chance in a long time” for peace.
He added that Haftar “has agreed to abide by the ongoing ceasefire”.
But Sarraj, whose GNA did sign the Moscow deal, cast doubt over Haftars intentions.
Haftar “has chosen not to sign the agreement and asked for a delay”, he said, calling that “an attempt to undermine the Berlin conference before it starts”.
The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and multiple foreign powers have become embroiled.
The GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar, while Haftar, who backs a rival administration in Libyas east, has the support of neighbouring Egypt as well as Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
The United Nations said the Berlin talks aim to end foreign interference and division over Libya.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will take part and voice support for truce efforts, the State Department said Thursday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Wednesday for firm support for the peace talks and asked for a halt in the fighting.
In a report to the Security Council he urged all parties to “engage constructively towards that end, including within the Berlin process”.
Guterres also warned against “external interfRead More – Source