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Libyan eastern-based army denies chief's participation in Palermo conference

Libyan eastern-based army denies chief's participation in Palermo conference

Acknowledging the chaotic political situation since dictator Moamer Kadhafi was deposed in 2011, the United Nations last week conceded elections will not be viable at least before the spring of 2019.

"The General Command of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces denies local and worldwide reports about the commander, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, participating in the conference held in the Italian city of Palermo on Libya", the army's information office said in a statement.

Libya had initially planned to hold its elections in December this year.

The country is now split between the internationally recognized government of national unity, GNU, based in Tripoli and the eastern government led by General Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar, held a brief meeting with the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, skipped the ongoing dinner, where representatives from other Libyan factions and their foreign sponsors were present.

"Amnesty International is calling on all those taking part in the conference to ensure that human rights of all people in the country, including refugees and migrants, are placed at the center of their negotiations", the rights group said in a statement.

"You don't change the horse until you cross the river", the diplomat quoted Haftar as saying.

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"Haftar is being hard as he has done several times in the past", said Paris-based Libya specialist Jalel Harchaoui.

Analysts say the Sicily summit risks being compromised not only by tensions between Libyan factions but also the competing agendas of foreign powers. Rival parliaments in the east and west also claim legitimacy as the legislature for the entire country.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, are among a number of leaders who are attending the conference.

Today's conference has been interpreted by some as an attempt by Italy to regain diplomatic responsibility for Libya from France, which had previously taken the reins in negotiations.

On Monday U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told Reuters he hoped another attempt to hold an election will take place by June but Libyans should first hold a national conference in early 2019 to decide on the poll's format.

France has been courting Haftar, who is supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see his forces as a bulwark against Islamists.