Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar is to have talks in Athens on Friday, days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin that he and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognized government Fayez al-Sarraj are expected to attend, AFP reported.
The talks come as world powers step up efforts for a lasting ceasefire, nine months since an assault on Tripoli by Haftar’s 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 Haftar’s 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 hotel where he was met by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias for an initial round of talks, TV footage showed.
He was scheduled to talk to Dendias again on Friday before meeting with 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.
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.
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 on Haftar’s 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.”