(ANSA) - Rome- Eastern Libyan strongman General Khalifa Haftar came to talks on the Libyan crisis hosted by Premier Giuseppe Conte in Rome Wednesday while Premier Fayez al-Serraj appeared to skip separate talks later in the day prompting opposition leader Matteo Salvini to call Conte "incompetent" in Rome's bid to broker a ceasefire.
Haftar spent three hours in Conte's office for the talks, throughout the afternoon. Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based, UN-recognised government, was initially expected to arrive in Rome for an 18:30 appointment with the Italian PM, but instead flew straight from Brussels to Tripoli. The Tripoli-based government has been under sustained attack since Haftar's forces launched an offensive in April.
League leader Salvini said Serraj had "snubbed" Conte because of his decision to welcome his long-time adversary, and the Italian premier was thus allegedly shown to be "inept and incompetent".
Other opposition parties also slammed the perceived failure of Conte's bid to mediate between the two sides.
Libyan Ambassador to the EU Hafed Gaddur told Libyan TV that "there can be no dialogue or meetings with the war criminal Haftar". Gaddur was among the first to announce that Serraj would no longer be going to Rome to meet Conte.
Serraj said after talks with EU officials in Brussels that the Tripoli-based UN-recognised government was entitled to defend itself and could draft "treaties and conventions with whom we like", referring to a deal to get troops from Ankara. "We have not taken in mercenaries, nor fighters from Sudan and Chad," he said. "We are determined to defend ourselves and no one will take this right from us". He described the Brussels talks as "very productive". "We don't want Libya to become a terrain of conflict, of proxy wars," said Serraj. "We want the aggressor to stop his attacks against the legitimate Libyan government, recognised at a global level. "This government is legitimate and can appeal to allies and other parties to defend itself".
Meanwhile the presidents of Turkey and Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, have launched an appeal to all sides involved in the conflict in Libya for a ceasefire starting Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced on Wednesday. The announcement was made after a closed-door meeting on Wednesday between the two leaders in Istanbul. The truce should start at midnight on January 12. Cavusoglu explained that during the talks the crises in Idlib in Syria and US-Iran tensions were discussed with leaders pledging to work for a de-escalation of tension in the Persian Gulf. The Italian defence chief of staff (CoS) said Wednesday there would be no withdrawal of Italian military personnel from Libya, contradicting media reports. "The activities agreed with the Libyan authorities are continuing regularly," it said. "There are no hypotheses of a withdrawal of the Italian military personnel from Libya, where the commitment of the contingent is appreciated by Libyan political authorities, the international community and the Libyan population". The situation in Libya, the CoS added, "requires a high level of attention and Italian soldiers are ready to implement all the necessary measures to safeguard security".
Italy refrained from signing the final statement from a ministerial meeting on Libya in Cairo Wednesday, judging it too biased, with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio urging moderation in order not to split the EU. The FM "fought to ease the hard position of the other countries towards Turkey and Serraj", sources said. "The Berlin process", Di Maio said, "must not see biased towards a single party". Sources outside the meeting with France, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece said Di Maio said "this morning Borrell met Serraj. We are working hard and must impress on everyone the weight of our responsibilities. We must not split the European Union in this moment. In stating that the Berlin process must not see the international community leaning too far towards one part only, Di Maio added that the EU "must be on the front line for dialogue and moderation. "We'll talk about Libya at the European council on Friday".
Source: ANSA News Agency