Libyan leader says rival strongman to have voice in govt

Acil Tabbara

Paris (AFP) - Libyan prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj says military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who controls the north African country's main oil ports, should be represented in a new, more inclusive government.

"We have no other choice but dialogue and reconciliation," Sarraj told AFP in an interview in Paris on Tuesday.

"No one wants an escalation or a confrontation between Libyans," he added, less than two weeks after Haftar's forces seized control of the strife-ridden country's "oil crescent".

The Libyan leader pledged to "quickly" submit "the composition of a new government in which everyone will be represented in a balanced way."

Sarraj, who met with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, said: "We should be united to fight the terrorism that is spreading in Libya."

His fragile unity government, formed in March following a UN-backed deal in December 2015, is backed by the international community.

But the Government of National Accord (GNA) has struggled to impose its power across a country riven by violence since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves, estimated at 48 billion barrels, but production and exports have slumped dramatically through years of crisis.

The parliament, which sits in the eastern city of Tobruk, is under Haftar's influence and refuses to recognise the Tripoli-based GNA, which runs day-to-day affairs.

Both governments depend on militias for their authority, and the parallel authority is backed by Haftar, who is in turn backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a closed parliamentary hearing whose proceedings have just been released that he had asked the two countries to "suggest" to Haftar that he meet with Sarraj.

The parliament rejected the GNA in a confidence vote last month.

Sarraj said he now hoped "the parliament will convene and that it will respond within six months as it did the last time."

He said the GNA's conciliatory attitude following the offensive by Haftar's forces to seize the oil terminals showed its determination to avert civil war.

Sarraj said he has met with Haftar and still maintained "indirect contacts" with him in order to "unify the military institution and the security forces".

France was forced to admit that it has provided military assistance to Haftar after three French troops were killed in Libya during an intelligence-gathering mission in July.

Sarraj said French authorities promised to inform the GNA in future of "any security coordination" with Haftar's forces.