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Libya Civil War Cease-Fire Talks in Russia Fall Apart

Samer Khalil Al-Atrush, Selcan Hacaoglu and Ilya Arkhipov

(Bloomberg) -- Talks to end Libya’s civil war broke down after the commander leading the monthslong assault on the capital left without signing a proposed truce agreement, throwing open the door to a possible renewal of fighting and deeper foreign intervention.

A diplomatic flurry went into high gear. Talks co-sponsor Russia said commander Khalifa Haftar, only left Moscow to consult with backers, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced an international conference on Libya would go ahead on Sunday as announced.

But the president of Turkey, which joined with Russia to broker the negotiations in Moscow, had more menacing words for the recalictrant Haftar, whose militia is allied with one of Libya’s two rival governments.

“If attacks on the legitimate government of Libya continue, we will never refrain from teaching a lesson to Haftar,” Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.

Erdogan, who supports Libya’s internationally recognized administration, also threw down the gauntlet to Haftar’s backer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, demanding he act to nail down the truce.

“We did our part, it is up to Putin and his team now,” he said.

The collapse of talks, which took place as a provisional cease-fire was shakily holding around the capital, Tripoli, was the latest in a long list of failed attempts to secure agreement between the country’s warring parties.

That may help to explain the lack of an impact on oil markets, even though Libya holds Africa’s largest proven crude reserves. Benchmark Brent crude was trading up 1% in London on Tuesday, after falling 1.2% the previous day, as tension surrounding the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran eased.

Increasingly Prominent

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that Haftar “welcomed” the draft agreement signed by the United Nations-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, but took two days to discuss it with allied tribes before signing it. An agreement in principle was reached to extend the temporary cease-fire that took effect over the weekend, the statement said.

It wasn’t clear what Haftar objected to, but Sarraj had demanded that he retreat to lines his forces held before the offensive on Tripoli began nine months ago.

Russia and Turkey, which had assumed increasingly assertive roles in the Libyan conflict as they jockey for influence in the Mediterranean, had brought Libya’s feuding leaders to the talks after concluding the intervention was too costly.

Russian mercenaries back Haftar’s forces, as do Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Former colonial power Italy also has a military training mission numbering several hundred troops, and on Tuesday, its premier didn’t rule out enlarging it. Turkish soldiers are training forces loyal to Sarraj, and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have also joined the fray.

There has been no immediate signal from Russia that it would withdraw support from Haftar following his rejection of the proposed accord. Speaking in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, Lavrov said Moscow and Ankara “will continue our efforts” to secure an agreement.

Years of Turmoil

Russia and Turkey pushed the fighting parties to accept the cease-fire as Libya endured its worst violence since the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of Muammar Qaddafi, which ushered in years of instability that divided the country between rival administrations.

Haftar is a former Qaddafi-era military officer who later fell out with the autocratic leader and went into exile in the U.S. He returned to Libya after the start of the uprising and in 2014 launched a military campaign with the declared aim of routing Islamist extremists in the country’s east.

His Libyan National Army then moved on to take control of key oil facilities and gained an upper hand in Libya’s south before moving on Tripoli, seeking to oust the prime minister, whose government has struggled to assert itself over much of the country.

Haftar launched the offensive on Tripoli, which has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced tens of thousands, as the UN was laying the ground for a political conference to unite the country.

Berlin Meeting

Russian government adviser Vitaly Naumkin said Haftar’s rejection of the deal “is not a total collapse.” Both sides are interested in going to the Berlin conference “with as strong a position as possible,” state news service RIA Novosti cited him as saying.

The meeting in Berlin is meant to secure an agreement to keep foreign powers out of the conflict. Invitations have been sent out to the warring leaders, their backers and international groupings including the UN, the German government press office said.

Libya is a gateway for migrants destined for Europe, so the European Union is desperate for a settlement to help ease political tensions across the bloc over rising anti-immigrant sentiment.

--With assistance from Mohammed Abdusamee, Salma El Wardany, Henry Meyer and Firat Kozok.

To contact the reporters on this story: Samer Khalil Al-Atrush in Tunis at skhalilalatr@bloomberg.net;Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net;Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net, Amy Teibel, Tony Halpin

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