Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

High stakes for Libya in Geneva

Talks in Geneva between rival Libyan factions could lead to the emergence of General Haftar as the new national strongman, writes Kamel Abdallah

High stakes for Libya in Geneva
High stakes for Libya in Geneva
Al-Ahram Weekly

Participants in the first round of the Libyan dialogue, held in the UN headquarters in Geneva on 14 and 15 January, have pledged their “unequivocal commitment to a united and democratic Libya governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

They also agreed on an agenda that includes “reaching a political agreement to form a consensual national unity government and the necessary security arrangements to end the fighting and secure the phased withdrawal of armed groups from all Libyan cities to allow the State to assert its authority over the country’s vital facilities.”

Participants called on all Libyan parties to cease hostilities and create an environment conducive to the dialogue, according to the closing statement released by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), sponsor of the dialogue.

The participants also discussed confidence-building measures “to safeguard the national unity of the country and to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan population.” The UNSMIL statement listed these in nine points.

They included action on detainees, abducted and missing persons, refugees and displaced people, humanitarian aid, an end to incendiary media campaigns, the opening of airports and other transport routes, payment of salaries and normal functioning of government institutions.

The UNSMIL press release noted that the dialogue was guided by a set of principles, “the most important of which are commitment to the foundations of the 17 February revolution, respect for the legitimacy of State institutions, separation of powers and the peaceful transfer of power, as well as the rejection of violence and terrorism.”

The participants agreed to return to Geneva next week for a second round of the dialogue following necessary consultations, the UNSMIL statement said, adding: “The Mission and the participants expressed their hope that all the invited representatives, including those who did not attend this round, would take part in the talks next week.”

UNSMIL sources told Al-Ahram Weekly Sunday that the second round would convene Wednesday and Thursday this week.

If last week’s meetings in the Palais des Nations in Geneva brought an agreement between participants over a dialogue agenda, the forthcoming rounds will proceed along four tracks. In addition to the political track, there will be one for dialogue between militia groups, another focussing on the social fabric, which will bring on board representatives of the various Libyan tribal groupings, and another that will include municipal councils from some Libyan cities.

Speaking after the first round on Thursday last week, the special envoy for the UN secretary-general and head of UNSMIL, Bernardino Leon, said that he called on all groups directly involved in the fighting on the ground to take part in the forthcoming round.

He mentioned Libya Dawn, Operation Dignity and the army, adding that most of the groups invited had agreed to take part in the dialogue. The UN official said that the forthcoming rounds will deal with the most pressing and urgent issues, most notably the formation of a national unity government, a halt to hostilities and a ceasefire agreement, the withdrawal of militia forces from Libyan cities and provisions for arms control.

If the current dialogue efforts fail, Leon said the next step will be to turn to the UN Security Council, which will determine the appropriate measures to take. He urged patience and persistence. As he stressed at the outset of the dialogue, “This is a process that will take time and the road ahead will be difficult. But the mission believes that time is of the essence and that all sincere Libyans must move quickly towards finding solutions to the crises if they are to prevent further political, security and economic deterioration in their country.”

Municipal councils in Misrata, Zintan and Warshafana in western Libya said that they had received invitations to take part in the dialogue in Geneva and will attend.

The Operation Dignity command announced it would initiate a ceasefire “on land, sea and air on all fronts” as of Sunday evening, 18 January. However, in its statement, issued Sunday, it made an exception for “hunting down terrorists.” This could effectively void the ceasefire.

In October, the parliament allied to this operation branded Libya Dawn forces, led by Misrata-based militias, as terrorists. One way to construe this is that Operation Dignity, led by retired General Khalifa Haftar, intends to use the ceasefire as a cover for combat operations, rather than to promote a climate conducive to dialogue, as the UN envoy had urged.

This is consistent with remarks by Colonel Ahmed Al-Mismari, spokesman for the chief-of-staffs appointed by the parliament currently sitting in Tobruk. Speaking at a press conference, Al-Mismari said that the fighting against terrorists would continue in Benghazi and Derna.

The forces of Libya Dawn, which are fighting in western Libya, and the forces of Operation Sunrise, fighting in the area of the oil ports and petroleum crescent in central Libya, were one step ahead of Operation Dignity. They announced a ceasefire only hours after the first round of talks in Geneva ad ended, according to a press statement by the official spokesman for the Libya Shield forces in the central zone, Ahmed Hadiya.

“Libya Dawn forces stress that their decision to halt hostilities was taken in conformity with and out of respect for the dialogue held in Geneva,” he said. “However, they reserve the right to respond to any assaults to which they might be subjected during the difficult negotiating process in Geneva without referring to any agency whatsoever.”

Nevertheless, Libyan sources close to Libya Dawn told the Weekly that Hadiya is close to one of the members of parliament who is boycotting the parliamentary sessions in Tobruk, the business magnate Fathy Bashagha, and that Hadiya issued the statement to the press on the basis of instructions from Bashagha, without first referring to the field commanders of the Libya Dawn and Operation Sunrise forces.

According to the sources, the commanders stressed that they take their orders from the chief of general staffs appointed by the General National Congress (GNC) and from the president of the GNC, Nouri Abu Sahmain. The commands of the Libya Dawn and Libya Sunrise operations added that they would announce their positions once the GNC determines whether or not to take part in the dialogue in Geneva.

A source from the GNC told the Weekly by phone on Sunday that this legislative body, which reconstituted itself in Tripoli, had stipulated a number of conditions for taking part in the dialogue. One was that it be held in Ghatt, a city in southwest Libya near the border with Algeria.

Another was that it would include four members of the GNC and four members of the parliament sitting in Tobruk. That latter group would not include those MPs that have been boycotting the Tobruk parliament, which is to say that Bashagha and his team would not take part. The implication is that the GNC rejects the current form of the dialogue in Geneva.

More significantly, the statement issued by Hadiya at Bashagha’s bidding is a sign that tensions are beginning to surface between the Libya Dawn and Libya Sunrise commands and leaders from Misrata. Some observers say these regional parties are trying to persuade the Misrata leaders, whom they describe as “moderate”, to join the camp opposed to Libya Dawn.

Such a shift would deliver a decisive blow to the Libya Dawn operation in the west. It would also be seen as a victory for Operation Dignity in the east. The author and commander of this operation, General Haftar, has just been rewarded with a promotion. On Saturday, the parliament in Tobruk officially confirmed him as commander of the Libyan air force and promoted his right-hand man to the rank of general.

There are reports that the Operation Dignity camp in eastern Libya is pressuring the Tobruk parliament to appoint Haftar general commander of the Libyan army. Some observers see a scenario in which Haftar assumes the helm of the country for an interim period, in the event that the Geneva dialogue moves to freeze both the resurrected GNC and the parliament that was elected on 25 June.

This would bring to an end to the phenomenon of two opposing legislative bodies in the country. If so, the way would be cleared for Haftar’s unrivalled presence at the centre of the Libyan political stage.

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