Paris (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting leaders and diplomats in Paris on Friday for an international conference aimed at ensuring Libya sticks to its plan to hold elections in December and turn a new page in its history.
The oil-rich North African country has been mired in a civil war since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising, with bloodshed in Libyan factions and competing Islamist groups, as well as regional powers.
The December 24 presidential vote and parliamentary elections are at the heart of a UN plan to help restore stability, but the timetable has been under pressure as tensions resume between rival camps.
There are also fears that the various factions will recognize the results of the polls, which could mark a turning point for a country that has become a major starting point for migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Key players at the meeting will include US Vice President Kamala Harris, who is visiting France to improve relations, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, one of Paris’s closest allies. in the Middle-East.
“The elections are close at hand. There is a strong dynamic in Libya for them to take place. The stability of the country is at stake,” said a French presidential official, who asked not to be identified by name.
Earlier this week, Libya opened registration for election candidates, as speculation grew over the possible presidential candidacies of eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar and Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, two deeply conflicting personalities.
The timeline also remains unclear – presidential and parliamentary elections were both scheduled for December 24.
In early October, parliament then postponed legislative elections until January, although world powers and the UN want them to be held simultaneously.
Foreign forces outside?
Elysee officials have endeavored to present the conference as an international effort, co-chaired by France, Germany, Italy, the United Nations and Libya itself.
But this is the latest foray into high-stakes international diplomacy for Macron, who is set to run for re-election in April and whose country will also assume the EU presidency in January.
In May 2018, a year after starting his term, Macron also summoned the main Libyan leaders for a conference in Paris where they agreed to hold elections that year.
France has since been accused of favoring Moscow-educated secular Haftar in the conflict against the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Although French weapons were found on a base used by pro-Haftar forces in 2019, Paris has rejected the claims.
Macron wants the conference to approve a plan for the departure of all foreign and mercenary forces from Libya, the French presidential official said.
Turkey has sent troops as well as pro-Ankara militia units from Syria to strengthen the government in Tripoli.
Observers also accuse Moscow of having deployed mercenaries belonging to the Wagner group, which is said to be controlled by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During a rare visit to Western Europe amid tensions between Moscow and the West, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be present.
But a new sign of the tense relations between Ankara and Paris, Turkey only sends its Deputy Foreign Minister, Sedat Onal.
Libya will be represented by Mohamed al-Menfi, the head of the transitional presidential council who acts as head of state ahead of the elections, as well as by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah.
Local media reported that Dbeibah will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangouch, despite her suspension by the presidential council, which highlighted tensions between the prime minister and the presidential council.
A prominent absentee is Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who has been invited by Paris but remains on the sidelines after being outraged by Macron’s comments criticizing his country’s “politico-military system”.
The protest aroused a rare expression of contrition on the part of the Elysee Palace, which said “regret” the misunderstandings caused by the remarks.
Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra hailed the response as “respectful” and confirmed that Algerian officials would attend the conference but not Tebboune himself.
© 2021 AFP