November 12, 2018 / 7:48 AM / a month ago

Italy's PM expects Libyan commander Haftar to join Palermo conference

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 (Reuters) - Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expects Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar to join a two-day conference starting in Palermo on Monday to push forward a new U.N. plan to stabilize Libya, he was cited as saying by a newspaper.

Italian officials were scrambling at the weekend to secure Haftar’s attendance at the conference organized by Rome. If he shows up, it will be his first meeting with the Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj since a Paris summit in May, analysts said.

“I expect him (Haftar) to be present since there is no doubt that he is one of the decisive players of the stabilization of his country,” Conte said in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa.

Conte also dismissed rivalry with France on how to handle the Libyan conflict, which has raged in the oil producer since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Italy and France “share the same viewpoint and objectives,” Conte said adding that he spoke often with French President Emmanuel Macron, the last time on Saturday, and that the two countries had worked closely together on setting up the conference in Sicily.

“We face a common challenge (the stabilization of Libya) and the risks of a further deteriorations of the crisis are weighing over all of us,” Conte said.

During the May summit in Paris, the main Libyan rivals pledged to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in December but last week U.N. Envoy Ghassan Salame officially abandoned the plan due to ongoing fighting and a political deadlock.

Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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