Skip to main content

Libyan general Haftar says Russia 'to fight arms embargo'

Khalifa Haftar says Russia will seek to 'revoke' the UN embargo and allow weapons to flow to his forces
Haftar (C), commander of the armed forces opposed to the internationally recognised Libyan government (AFP)

A Libyan general opposed to the UN-backed unity government has claimed Russia is seeking to end the arms embargo in his country and could supply him with weapons.

Asked whether he was promised weapons during a recent visit to Russia, Khalifa Haftar claimed on Tuesday that Moscow told him that President Vladimir Putin would "undertake to revoke" the UN arms embargo.

Haftar told the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper that Russia had told him weapons "can arrive only once the (UN) embargo ends" but was assured Putin was seeking that result.

Haftar is a thorn in the side of the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, which has struggled to assert authority in the strife-torn country. 

Haftar, the head of the so-called Libyan National Army, supports a parallel authority based in eastern Libya near the border with Egypt, that controls much of the country's oil production.

The bitter divisions in the country are matched by those among the powers pushing for democracy in the conflict-torn country.

Western supporters of the GNA have prioritised the fight against Islamic State and controlling migration flows from Libya towards Europe.

But another group including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia see Haftar's forces as the nucleus of a future military, and are suspicious of the Islamist factions in Tripoli.

Dialogue possible, but not yet

US Secretary of State John Kerry said last month there had been a "significant shift" in efforts to bring the field marshal to the table.

Haftar said he was open to dialogue with GNA head Fayez Serraj in principle, but it was impossible to talk politics just now.

"We are at war, security issues take precedence. It's not an opportune time for politics. We need to fight to save the country from Islamic extremists," he said.

"I began talks with Serraj two and half years ago. Without any concrete results. Once the extremists have been beaten we can start talking about democracy and elections again. But not now," he added.

Haftar denied media reports of an upcoming meeting with Serraj, saying the last time they had spoken directly was in January 2016.

But he admitted: "I have nothing personally against Serraj. He is not the problem, it's those around him.

"If he really wants to fight to make peace in the country, he should take up arms and join our ranks. He is always welcome."

Libya has been mired in chaos since the fall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with a constellation of militias vying for control of the country.

Haftar complained of countries providing support to the GNA but not the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR), saying "we expect help from everyone to fight IS".

"We would be happy to cooperate with Great Britain, France or Germany. Italy too," he said.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.