Jean-Yves Ollivier shares his insights of Libya political future and next-elections in the Times

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Jean-Yves Ollivier shares his insights of Libya political future and next-elections in the Times

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"Gaddafi set to take key role in Libya peace talks"


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The son of Colonel Gaddafi has risen to prominence under efforts to reunite Libya and will probably run for president in the next elections, an independent French negotiator has told The Times.

Against the odds, Saif al-Islam, 46, is alive and at liberty seven years after a Nato air campaign helped to overthrow his father. Since his release last year by a militia in Zintan he has been in internal “asylum” in the northwest of the country and remains a powerful influence on Libya’s future.

“Saif is a symbol to reconciliation,” said Jean-Yves Ollivier, the French negotiator at the centre of efforts for Libyan peace. “We don’t discuss politics but he passes me messages. He wants elections and he is convinced that if he goes to elections there will be two million Gaddafists behind him, so he will win.”

The apparent move to rehabilitate Colonel Gaddafi’s favoured political heir raises questions about the decision by western powers, including France and the UK, to back rebels against the regime in 2012. Saif al-Islam is still wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged atrocities during the revolution, including crimes against humanity, murder and persecution.

Colonel Gaddafi’s second son was a one-time darling of the West and regarded as a reformist capable of leading Libya away from dictatorship. Hosted by the royal family at Buckingham Palace, he was a habitué of an elite international social scene, attending parties with Lord Mandelson and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. In 2008 he gained a PhD from the London School of Economics.

The Libyan revolution threw his fortunes into reverse. He was caught trying to flee the country in November 2011 and was injured in a Nato air attack on his convoy, losing the fingers of his right hand. He was sentenced to death by a Tripoli court in 2015 but the sentence was not carried out as Libya descended into chaos. Efforts to rehabilitate Saif al-Islam — the “sword of Islam” in Arabic — and return the Gaddafi family to the political arena have included requests for the ICC to reconsider its outstanding arrest warrant against him and a legal challenge on the admissibility of the ICC indictment. It will deliver a ruling by September 28.

Behind-the-scenes efforts to bring all of Libya’s factions together at a single table have involved a complex process of concessions. Central to the reconciliation initiative lies the awareness that no lasting peace is possible without the reintegration of Gaddafi loyalists into the political arena. Libya’s 6.2 million citizens are believed to include up to 500,000 Gaddafists living in exile abroad, and about 1.5 million displaced from their homes inside Libya. “Add to these the ‘nostalgia Gaddafists’, who say that when Gaddafi was in power the country had security,” said Mr Ollivier, chairman of the Brazzaville Foundation, which is at the centre of reconciliation efforts. “You cannot ignore these people. The voice of all Libyans needs to be heard.”

Mr Ollivier, 73, first met Colonel Gaddafi in 1969 and has long had business and diplomatic links with Libya. His foundation took its name from the 1988 Brazzaville Protocol in which he was heavily involved, which ended South Africa’s border war and played a part in the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela.

A UN-backed initiative led to the leaders of four Libyan factions meeting in Paris in May, where they agreed to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in December. However, representatives from key cities including Misrata and Zintan, as well as Gaddafi loyalists, were absent. A parallel process of reconciliation is being channelled by the Brazzaville Foundation.

“Peace is the most courageous action a man can do,” said Mr Ollivier, whose experience as a French pied noir forced to flee Algeria in 1962 provided the motivation for his later involvement in peace negotiation. “To declare a war is nothing.