Paris Conference Seeks Libya Policies

Paris Conference Seeks Libya Policies

PARIS (AP) -- Libya's rival leaders arrived in Paris on Tuesday for a meeting aimed at agreeing a political roadmap that would help restore order in the country, where lawlessness has fed Islamic militants, human trafficking and instability in the region.

Representatives of twenty countries, including Libya's neighbors, regional and European powers, the United States and international organizations were expected Tuesday at the Elysee Palace.

The U.N.-backed conference aims at securing parliamentary and presidential elections in the North African country, if possible by the end of 2018.

Macron's office said Libyan leaders have agreed in principle to a non-binding accord.

"There will be a collective commitment to this scenario for coming out of the crisis," an official at the French presidency said Monday. "The very important issue is about simplifying the Libyan institutions" because they are "extremely complex." The official spoke anonymously because he was not allowed to disclose details publicly ahead of the conference.

Libya is split between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by an array of militias.

Participants include Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, head of Libya's UN-recognized government in Tripoli in the west, and Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the commander of Libya's national army which dominates the east.

Representatives of Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, which have backed Hifter and the rival administration in Tobruk in the east, are also attending, as well as the U.N. special envoy Ghassan Salame.

According to a 13-point draft seen by the Associated Press, Tuesday's planned accord includes a commitment to organize elections by the end of 2018, to support the unification of the national army and a call for the immediate unification of the Libyan Central Bank.

The draft warns of potential international sanctions on those that obstruct or interfere in the voting process.

Yet it doesn't address what may be Libya's biggest challenge: a wide network of militias fighting for power and control in the country.

"Of course there are Libyans who are opposed to this political process, others who are for a 'status quo' because they have an interest in it, others who are for disorder and instability. So we must not close our eyes" the official at the French presidency said. "They are a minority", he added.

France is trying to play peacemaker in a country where years of efforts by the United Nations and former colonial power Italy have failed to bring stability.

Macron brought the two rival Libyan leaders Sarraj and Hifter together at a meeting near Paris last July. They committed themselves to working toward presidential and parliamentary elections.

The International Crisis Group, an NGO committed to resolve conflicts, warned the Paris conference might unintentionally undermine the U.N.-led peace process.

The group said in a statement Monday that "French organizers should avoid imposing too rigid a framework." It called for "a broader declaration of principles on political, security and economic steps that would help stabilize and unite the divided country."

Libya plunged into chaos after the uprising that ended Moammar Gadhafi's rule in 2011. France was at the forefront of the airstrikes, carried out along with the United States and others, in a NATO operation that helped rebel fighters topple Gadhafi's regime.

The country has become a base for the Islamic State group and other extremists and a departure point for African migrants seeking to enter Europe.

(KA)