French foreign minister to travel to Libya to push peace deal

FILE PHOTO: French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister said on Thursday he would head to Libya “very soon” to push warring parties to support a peace roadmap tentatively agreed in Paris in July.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and the divided country’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar verbally committed last month to a conditional ceasefire and to work toward holding elections next spring.

“I will be traveling to Libya very soon to ensure the follow-up of this meeting and to get the support of all sides to the declaration that was adopted then,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a speech to French ambassadors.

France, which took a leading role in the NATO air campaign that helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi, has sought to play a greater role in Libya, believing diplomatic efforts were stalling and that under President Emmanuel Macron it could fill that void.

Officials fear jihadist groups could try to exploit the power vacuum in Libya to regroup after losing substantial ground in Syria and Iraq, and see a resolution to the conflict as vital to ending Europe’s migrant crisis.

“In Libya, France along with others has a specific responsibility to help this country find unity and stability,” Le Drian said.

Past attempts at peace deals in oil-producing Libya have often been scuttled by internal divisions among the myriad of competing armed groups that have emerged since rebels toppled Gaddafi in 2011.

Diplomats declined to say specifically when Le Drian was traveling due to security reasons.

The French initiative has angered officials in Italy, which has previously taken the lead in efforts to bring peace to its former North African colony and borne the brunt of successive waves of African migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya.

Reporting by John Irish; editing by Ralph Boulton