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Macron to meet Libya’s Sarraj as tensions flare over Tripoli assault

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to meet Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj on Wednesday, who has accused Paris of supporting his rival and tacitly backing his assault on Tripoli, a presidential source said.

Relations between the two leaders have soured since strongman Khalifa Haftar launched a campaign last month against Sarraj and his internationally recognised Government of National Accord.

Sarraj claimed France had switched sides to support a “dictator”, in comments deemed “unacceptable and unfounded” by the presidential source on Tuesday.

“France supports Prime Minister Sarraj and was opposed to Haftar’s military offensive against Tripoli,” the source said, while reiterating that France had maintained contacts with actors on both sides of the conflict.

On April 4, Haftar launched a drive towards Tripoli where Sarraj’s UN-recognised government is based, triggering fighting that has claimed nearly 400 lives.

Macron intends to ask Sarraj about the humanitarian situation and see if he has proposals to end the conflict, which appears to have reached a stalemate in recent days.

“Sarraj is a pragmatic politician whom we can work with,” the source said.

“But in his entourage and among his supporters there are some extremists, clans and factions which think it’s easier to accuse foreigners, in this case the countries which have been the most active, like France.”

On Tuesday, Sarraj met in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Conte warned against possible military action in Libya, as the head of Tripoli’s internationally recognised government kicked off a European tour to drum up support against the assault by strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The contents of a meeting between Conte and al-Sarraj – which Italian media said lasted about 90 minutes – were not made public.

But Conte said on the sidelines of a separate event that “there is no military solution that could guarantee the stabilisation of the country”.

“The military solution would, in any case, come at the cost of human lives and humanitarian crises,” Conte said.

The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are seen as key supporters of Haftar, praising his battlefield successes against the Islamic State group and other extremists in Libya.

Italy, Libya’s former colonial power, is a key backer of the GNA and has echoed calls by Merkel for a “unified” European position and a political solution to resolve the crisis.

In a slip of the tongue, Conte said he had spoken “with president Haftar,” but immediately corrected himself to say: “I’ve spoken with president Sarraj. I am confident I will be able to meet General Haftar soon. We are seeking to establish how and when.”

He was later to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and may travel to London as part of his tour to drum up European support for his beleaguered government.

The French government “has coordinated closely” with officials in Rome, Berlin and London in order to ensure a consistent message on Libya, the presidential source said.

Britain has pushed for a resolution at the UN Security Council demanding a ceasefire in Libya, but its efforts have foundered against opposition from Russia and the United States.

Ahead of Sarraj’s tour, Haftar urged his troops to “wipe out the enemy”, in a message read out by LNA spokesman General Ahmad al-Mesmari late on Sunday, echoing similar comments made by Gaddafi during a pro-democracy uprising in 2011.

Fighting between rival militia groups in the capital has claimed 264 lives and left more than 1,200 wounded.

Fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs has so far displaced at least 35,000 people, UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya said Monday.

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