When Boris met Khalifa: Libya's Haftar receives UK foreign secretary in Benghazi

When Boris met Khalifa: Libya's Haftar receives UK foreign secretary in Benghazi
The UK foreign minister flew to Benghazi on Thursday to meet the breakaway rebel military leader and discuss the peace process.
3 min read
25 August, 2017
Haftar hosted Boris Johnson in Benghazi [Facebook]
Britain's foreign secretary on Thursday became the first major Western politician to visit east Libya's breakaway military strongman, Khalifa Haftar, at his residences in Benghazi.

Boris Johnson and the British Ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, met with Haftar, a rebel general with the support of the UAE and Egypt, to discuss the terms of last month's Paris peace deal.

"Field Marshall Haftar has a role to play in the political process," Johnson said in a statement.

"I urged him to adhere to the commitments he made during recent meetings in Paris, to respect a ceasefire, and to work with Mr. Salamé in order to amend the Libyan Political Agreement," he added, referring to the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.

UK Ambassador Millett said in October that Westminster wanted Haftar to be a part of Libya's national reconciliation process. 

Johnson stopped off in Benghazi having first visited Tripoli, where he pledged £9 million in aid to help fight terrorism and prevent the passage of illegal migrants to Europe.

"Libya is the front line for many challenges which left unchecked can pose problems for us in the UK – particularly illegal migration and the threat from terrorism," he said.

The Paris agreement

On July 27, France's President Macron hosted a meeting in Paris between Fayez al-Serraj, head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), and Khalifa Haftar.

The one day meeting produced a ten point plan for peace in Libya. This plan was notable as it accepted the importance of a political solution in line with the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco on December 17, 2015.

The plan introduced a new roadmap towards peace, culminating national elections "as soon as possible" – hopefully by spring of 2018. However, Johnson said that he had advised not to hold the elections too early – a fact probably learnt from his own party's electoral losses in June.

The two sides, previously enemies, also agreed to hold regular meetings to discuss merging the east and west Libyan armies under Haftar in an attempt to install peace.

Since this meeting however, Haftar's forces, the Libyan National Army, have announced plans to capture Derna in east Libya in a large scale assault.

The International Association of Rights and Freedoms, a Libyan NGO, said on Wednesday the continuing siege of Derna by LNA troops was a "crime against humanity" – aimed at starving innocent civilians.

Haftar's forces have been engaged in a two-year battle to defeat east Libya's Islamist forces, a number with proven links to some of Europe's worst terrorist attacks.

Read more: Manchester bomber 'linked to IS battalion behind Bataclan massacre'

The 'migrant' problem

Johnson's visit is part of a pan-European project to reduce the numbers of people from taking the perilous crossing across the Mediterranean ocean for a new life in Europe.

The UK government supports the detention of migrants in Libyan holding centres, notable for the long list of widespread rape, torture and murder allegations that have emerged from them.

One aid centre director said the UK was complicit in "helping to trap thousands of people in appalling conditions".

"The British government is happy to sweep the appalling human cost of its deterrence policies on migration under the carpet – anything to make this someone else's problem," said Andre Heller-Perache, head of UK programmes at Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).