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EU to lift sanctions against speaker of Libya rival parliament

Aguila Saleh has been under US sanctions since 2016 for allegedly obstructing peace efforts [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 September, 2020

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EU diplomats now recognise Aguila Saleh as a key powerbroker in the conflict, capable of bringing the together country's warring factions.

The European Union will lift sanctions imposed on the head of Libya's rival parliament, diplomatic sources told Reuters, in a move that could signal the body playing a lead role in negotiating a political settlement in the war-torn country.     
Following the announcement in late August of a ceasefire by the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), EU nations are now looking to reassert their role and counter Russia and Turkey's increasing military involvement in the conflict.

Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the eastern-based parliament, has been under US sanctions since 2016 for allegedly obstructing peace efforts. Yet in August, he echoed the GNA's calls for a ceasefire and the lifting of a seven-month blockade on oil facilities.

EU diplomats now recognise Saleh as a key powerbroker in the conflict and a person capable of bringing both sides in the conflict together.

Libya was plunged into chaos following the 2011 fall of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which has seen the country divided between the rival east and UN-backed west-based administrations.

The crisis worsened last year when militia leader Khalifa Haftar, who backs the rival Tobruk parliament, and is supported by Egypt, the UAE and Russia, launched an offensive to seize Tripoli.

The eastern commander was driven from the city's suburbs by the Turkish-backed GNA early this year. Fighting has now stalled around the Mediterranean city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya's eastern oil fields and export terminal.

Read more: Haftar assembling hundreds of mercenaries near Libya's Sirte, claims UN-backed government

Haftar has rebuked the GNA's calls to halt hostilities, standing in contrast to Saleh, whose ban on travel and freezing of assets EU states are now working to reverse. Similar sanctions imposed against the prime minister and president of a previous Tripoli administration, the General National Congress, will also be removed.

"We are heading towards a delisting of Saleh. It enables us to send a signal to 'spoilers' because frankly everybody is talking to him," one EU diplomat told Reuters.

Analysts say that Saleh is seen as a better counterbalance to Haftar and has won the favour of Egypt and Russia, who deem Haftar irrelevant after his campaign to seize the capital failed.

"Given that reality, other nations, including Europeans, are now joining the bandwagon. It is important to have one or more interlocutors that are not Haftar or his sons," Jalal Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, told Reuters.

The bloc has also agreed in principle to sanction two Libyan individual and three companies, including those linked to the country's maritime and aviation sectors, part of wider efforts to enforce a much-violated UN arms embargo. Agreements could come later this month.

The process is stalled by delays from Cyprus, which is blocking all sanctions approval until the EU takes a tougher stance against Turkey in a dispute over energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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