October 2, 2018 / 8:57 PM / 19 days ago

Italy to host Libya conference in Sicily, seeks stabilization

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will host an international conference on Libya in Sicily next month to try to bring together opposing forces and forge dialogue in the warring nation, Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi visits Riga, Latvia July 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The meeting will be held in the Sicilian capital Palermo on Nov. 12 and 13, with key players from both within Libya and abroad expected to turn up, Moavero told parliament.

“We want to find a common solution, even though there will be different opinions around the table,” Moavero said, adding that the goal was to help restore peace in Libya and facilitate an inclusive political process ahead of possible elections.

Italy has been tussling with neighboring France over how best to deal with Libya, which has been racked by violence for years following the NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew strongman Mummar Gaddafi.

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister of Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Seraj attends a news conference with the U.S. ambassador to Libya Peter Bodde and Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, in Tripoli, Libya May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Hani Amara

Libyan leaders announced at a conference in Paris in May that they would hold elections on Dec. 10 as part of a French drive to stabilize the North African country.

Italy bristled at the move to fix a date in the face of continued clashes between rival factions, and few Western diplomats believe the vote can go ahead in the current climate.

Moavero said he did not expect the Palermo meeting would focus on specific dates. “No deadlines will be imposed or tasks set for the Libyans,” he said.

INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT

U.S. President Donald Trump has given his blessing to the Italian conference and Moavero said he would fly to Moscow next Monday to discuss the situation in Libya with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

FILE PHOTO: Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, arrives to attend an international conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer /File Photo

Rome expects high-level delegations from Libya’s neighbors as well as from the Gulf, Turkey and the European Union.

However, it was still not clear if Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, a dominant figure in the east of the country, would show up in Sicily.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) last year seized the country’s second largest city, Benghazi, by expelling Islamist and other fighters.

In an interview with Reuters published on Tuesday, Haftar said he still supported plans for national elections in Libya in December but accused other players of not fulfilling their promises that would have paved the way for a ballot.

Italy has thrown its weight behind Haftar’s main rival, Prime Minister Fayez Seraj, who leads a U.N.-brokered transitional government based in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Moavero met Haftar last month and said on Tuesday that the commander had confirmed “his interest in the conference”.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gareth Jones

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