PALERMO, Sicily (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Libya said Tuesday he was encouraged by support from Libyan factions and the international community for a national conference planned for early 2019 to chart a path to greater stability and elections in the lawless country.
Ghassan Salame praised the “louder sound of unity” among key regional players and “a much higher level of conviviality” between Libyan rivals that he sensed during a two-day meeting in Sicily.
“So I do consider this conference as a success and as an important milestone in our common struggle to bring back peace, security and prosperity to the Libyan people,” Salame told a press conference.
Italy, the former colonial ruler in oil-rich Libya, had hosted the meeting in hopes of helping Libya crack down on Islamic militants and human trafficking while making progress on a U.N. action plan for improving security, economic and political problems in the country.
The summit was marked by the abrupt pullout of Turkey, which objected to having been excluded from a mini-summit Premier Giuseppe Conte hosted on the sidelines early Tuesday.
The mini-summit involved key African, European and regional players with the Tripoli-based U.N.-backed prime minister, Fayez Serraj, and rival Gen. Khalifa Hifter, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army that is based in Libya’s east.
“The informal meeting, held this (morning) with a number of players and having them presented as the prominent protagonists of the Mediterranean, is a very misleading and damaging approach which we vehemently oppose,” Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay told reporters.
“Turkey is leaving the meeting with deep disappointment,” he said.
Conte said he was personally sorry for the pullout but said such reactions were to be expected given the sensibilities in the region.
Expectations going into the meeting were limited, with Hiftar’s camp making clear that he wasn’t participating in the conference itself but rather meeting with leaders of neighboring countries on the sidelines. Neither Hiftar nor el-Sissi nor Oktay posed for the final conference group photo.
Salame, however, said he was heartened by both Hiftar and Serraj’s commitment to participate in the consultative conference in Libya scheduled for the first weeks of next year. The U.N. has been soliciting input from a broad array of Libyans on the way forward, but says the time has come for a wider group to devise a clear timetable for elections.
“I feel more reassured about the convening and the possible success of this national conference,” he said.
Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and it is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west with both relying on the support of militias.
It has also become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking, particularly in the remote south of the country.
Italy’s anti-migrant government is keen in particular to stem the Libyan-based migrant smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of would-be refugees to Europe via Italy in recent years.
AP producer Maggie Hyde in Palermo; Brian Rohan in Cairo and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed.
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