Two rival Libyan leaders committed themselves on Tuesday to a cease-fire, working toward presidential and parliamentary elections and finding a roadmap to secure lawless Libya against terrorism and trafficking of all kinds, according to a document released by the French presidency.
The meetings at a chateau in La Celle Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, brought together Fayez Serraj, prime minister of the UN-backed unity government, and Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the Egyptian-backed commander of Libya’s self-styled national army.
Macron met separately with each ahead of an encounter between the two Libyans in the presence of UN’s newly appointed special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame.
“There is political legitimacy in the hands of Mr Serraj. There is military legitimacy is in the hands of Mr Hifter. They have decided to work together,” Macron said after the series of encounters.
The 10-point joint declaration that capped the talks was the first of its kind between the rivals.
Among the points agreed upon was a commitment to a cease-fire with armed force reserved “strictly” for use in counter-terrorism operations.
The rivals also “solemnly commit to work toward the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections as soon as possible.”
The French president said later that the goal is for balloting in the spring. Serraj had said in May that elections would be held in spring. The date may seem premature in a country that has spiraled into chaos since the 2011 toppling and killing of leader Moammar Gadhafi. But French diplomats had said before the meeting that they would support such an initiative.
“The stakes of this reconciliation are enormous. Enormous for the Libyan people, who have been suffering, living with instability and terrorist threats these past years, and it is considerable for the whole region,” Macron said after the talks. “If Libya fails,” he said, “the whole region fails with it.”
The stakes are high for Europe, too, as hundreds of thousands of migrants using Libya as a springboard reach its shores, mainly in Italy, and as Islamic extremists sheltering and multiplying in Libya cross to other North African states, most former French colonies.
‘Joint declaration is historic’
The encounter was never expected to resolve the knotty problems of Libya, politically fractured and awash in militias and weapons and human traffickers preying on migrants who use the Libyan coast as a jumping off point to Europe, mainly Italy. But the joint declaration is to serve as a basis for further work by the UN envoy.
Macron, elected in May, was at ease in his role as peacemaker. He has made known that working toward laying the groundwork for a Libya with a functioning government and institutions is a priority of his presidency.
Appearing at a news conference, the three men shook hands and the two Libyan rivals bear-hugged Macron before exchanging timid kisses on the cheek. Neither Serraj nor Hifter spoke to the press.
“The courage that is yours today by being here and by agreeing to this joint declaration is historic,” Macron said.
France, minding its diplomatic manners, has made clear that Macron’s initiative is part of a larger process guided by the UN and does not negate work by the European Union, the African Union and individual countries working to find a path leading to a stable Libya under civilian rule.
The 10 points of the final declaration paint a picture of a Libya with a democratically elected government and a regular army and where human rights are respected and militias are banned.
The first point states that the solution to the Libyan crisis “can only be political” with a national reconciliation process that includes “all Libyans”.
The two leaders called for disarmament and demobilisation of fighters who don’t want to integrate the regular armed forces so they can be reintegrated into civilian life.
This was not the first meeting between Serraj and Hifter. They last met in early May in Abu Dhabi, and the United Arab Emirates said later there had been a “significant breakthrough.” However, no joint declaration followed.