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General Haftar. Screenshot from AfricaNews report

Embattled Libyan PM warns of new migrant wave

Libyan prime minister Fajes al-Sarradsch has warned against a new wave of asylum seekers heading in the direction of Europe.

Published: April 18, 2019, 7:28 am

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    “If Libya becomes even more precarious, Europe will have to prepare for further waves of refugees,” al-Sarradsch told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

    Around 800 000 people are waiting in his country for the passage to Europe, he stressed, and warned: “For Europe, it would be a disaster if the migrant issue reopens.”

    The statements of the Libyan Prime Minister, whose government now controls only a small part of the North African country, come against the backdrop of the advance of the army of his greatest adversary, Chalifa Haftar.

    The PM’s deputy, Ahmed Maitik, also painted a horror scenario. Haftar will create “30 years of civil war, 30 years of ISIS rule and 30 years of devastation” in Libya. Some western countries such as Italy, are on the side of al-Sarradsch in the conflict that last brought large territorial gains for Haftar’s troops.

    Italy’s Prime Minister too, warned against support for Haftar. “A military option cannot be a solution,” Giuseppe Conte said, also adding it could trigger a migration wave from Libyans to southern Europe.

    The Libyan general of the former ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and France.

    France relies on oil imports from Haftar-controlled regions of Libya, a strategic partnership gained by not backing his rival government based in Tripoli, even though that government has been designated by the UN and EU to be the only legitimate government. Total, the giant French oil and gas company, has operated in Libya since the 1950s.

    France’s support for Haftar  is a headache for major powers battling each other. Haftar, a military commander of note, lived in exile in the US for two decades before returning to the country in 2011. With years of command experience, Haftar quickly became a leading national figure in Libyan politics, leading the Tobruk-based government.

    His primary strategy has been to unite the country’s myriad militias, taking over a majority of the country, including nearly all of its eastern and southern regions. By extension, he also controls much of the Libya’s massive oil reserves.

    When Haftar moved to take Libya’s second-biggest city of Benghazi in 2016, France reportedly sent special forces units to provide logistical support for the LNA, which was vital for Haftar’s victory, reported albawaba.com.

    France was forced to admit it that it was present in Benghazi when a French helicopter crashed in July 2016, killing three of French special forces soldiers on board. They had been involved in giving Haftar intelligence support.

    According to Asia Times, French Foreign Minister, and former defense minister, Jean Yves Le Drian visited Haftar in Benghazi as recently as in March 2019. Haftar demanded to know why Le Drian had not visited him in so long, and Le Drian responded that France was simply “waiting for your victories”.

    France’s support for Haftar’s move on Tripoli has been uncompromising. When the EU moved to condemn the assault on April 11, France blocked the resolution.

    Haftar currently controls most of Libya’s oil fields, including those in the Sire Basin, which contain about 80 percent of the country’s proven reserves.

    In March 2018, Total expanded its reach into Libya even further, purchasing a 16 percent stake in the Waha Oil Company, a subsidiary of Libya’s state-owned oil enterprise, National Oil Corp. The deal was worth $450 million. Waha Oil exports from Libya’s eastern, Haftar-controlled port of Es Sider.

    Prior to that deal, Total had access to Haftar-controlled oil reserves in the country’s south, including the Sharara field.

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