Paris - Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar was in Paris Wednesday for meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron amid growing international concern about his weeks-long offensive to take Libya’s capital, Tripoli.
The closed-door meeting comes two weeks after Macron hosted Libya’s struggling UN-backed prime minister, who has denounced Haftar’s offensive as an attempted coup.
Macron’s office has expressed support for Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj but hasn’t openly addressed claims that France is secretly backing Haftar.
The fighting over Tripoli erupted on April 4, with the Libyan National Army led by Haftar and aligned with a rival government in eastern Libya, launching a push on the country’s capital, located in the west, and militias loosely allied with the UN-supported government in Tripoli.
The death toll from the fighting stood at 510 on Sunday, according to the World Health Organization, mainly combatants but also including civilians. Tens of thousands have been displaced or trapped by Haftar’s offensive.
The UN envoy for Libya warned on Tuesday that the oil-rich nation was “on the verge of descending into a civil war” that could imperil its neighbours. Gassan Salame told the Security Council that extremists from Daesh and Al Qaida are already exploiting the security vacuum.
Libya has been split between rival authorities in east and west since 2014, with each side backed by various militias. Haftar’s forces have battled extremists and other rival factions across eastern Libya, and recently made inroads in the south.
Haftar presents himself as a strong hand that can restore stability after years of chaos that transformed Libya into a haven for armed groups and a major conduit for migrants bound for Europe. His opponents, however, view him as an aspiring autocrat and fear the country could return to one-man rule as under longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted and killed in 2011.