Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Combat and dialogue

Prospects for a negotiated solution to Libya’s deep national crisis have improved, but continued fighting on the ground is challenging UN-sponsored talks, writes Kamel Abdallah

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Participants in the Libyan dialogue sponsored by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) completed a second round of talks at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in the last half of January. Observers believe that this round, attended by representatives of popularly elected municipal councils from different parts of Libya, achieved a modest breakthrough towards resolution of the crisis in the country, even if hostilities are continuing on all fronts.

The dialogue was convened abroad after the collapse of an earlier dialogue, held in Ghadames in Libya on 29 September, and resulted in an agreement to resolve urgent issues affecting daily life in the country. Participants agreed to respond to the conditions of displaced persons and refugees, and to remedy the situation of persons abducted or illegally detained by parties to the conflict.

At a political level, they agreed to the proposal of UN envoy Bernadino Leon to create a national unity government and a national security council. Such steps to unify governmental structures in the country are considered necessary if the international community is to continue to support Libya during the coming phases of the interim period.

The Libyan dialogue in Geneva (two rounds of which were held on 14-15 January and 26-27 January) achieved a considerable bridging of views between the rival camps. Because it took place far away from the sounds of missiles and gunfire, participants were able to overcome obstacles and settle some differences.

This progress signifies that this time UN envoy Leon operated on the realisation that has escaped some regional and international powers: Libya is gripped by societal, tribal and regional divisions. It is not only a political or ideological dispute, and the solution is to transcend the power struggle over legitimacy by creating an alternative entity to assume that legitimacy.

The elected parliament currently convening in Tobruk and the General National Congress (GNC), resurrected in Tripoli, have asserted rival claims to legitimacy. The two legislative bodies have formed governments, one headed by Abdullah Al-Thani and the other by Omar Al-Hasi. Both appear to lacking the ability to manage the nation’s affairs.

UN mediators succeeded in brokering an agreement between the municipalities of Misrata and Tawergha, whose inhabitants were forced to flee their homes during the 2011 war.

The agreement calls for the establishment of a committee to ascertain the wellbeing of detainees from Tawergha, to review the charges against them with relevant authorities, and to secure the release of those who have not been charged or found guilty. The agreement also establishes the right of the people of Tawergha to return to their city.

The hostility between Tawergha and Misrata has been one of the most important and sensitive issues in the post-Gaddafi era. Tawergha, 38 kilometres from Misrata, was the scene of heavy fighting during the revolution. Misratans accused “pro-Gaddafi” Tawerghans of leading a siege against Misrata and committing massacres and mass rapes. When fortunes turned, anti-Gaddafi forces from Misrata captured the city and left Tawergha a ghost town. Misrata forces waged what has been described as a campaign of ethnic cleansing, forcing some 5,000 of Tawergha’s inhabitants to seek refuge in other towns and cities.

Participants at the Geneva dialogue are keen to return to Libya but fighting continues to rage. It is important to note that the dialogue participants represented the doves from the opposing camps. They clearly lack sufficient clout to compel the hawks to lay down their weapons and join the dialogue so that the process could be relocated back to Libya.

While both sides seem to want the dialogue to move back to Libya, they cannot agree on a domestic venue. Each side insists on hosting the dialogue in a town or city under its control, claiming that their proposed venue will guarantee neutrality and a conducive climate.

Hostilities continue to the south of Tripoli between the forces of Operation Libya Dawn and the national army. In Benghazi, fierce clashes continue between the forces of Operation Dignity, which the government is now allied with against the militias of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, an umbrella organisation for various Islamist-oriented groups.

Although the fighting has dragged on for many months now, neither side has been able to turn the war in its favour. Meanwhile, more than 2,800 people have been killed, most during the second half of 2014.

On 27 January, Tripoli was the scene of a terrorist attack against the Corinthia Hotel, the largest hotel in the capital. Eleven people, including Libyans and foreigners, were killed and three of the assailants also died. The prime minister of the “national salvation government”, Omar Al-Hasi, and several of his ministers live in the hotel.

Websites affiliated with a group allied to Daesh (Islamic State) claimed responsibility for the carnage. The operation was ostensibly in retaliation for the abduction last year by US commandos of a Libyan Al-Qaeda operative, Nazih Abdul-Hamed Al-Ruqai, sometimes known as Abu Anas Al-Libi.

Al-Ruqai died last month in a New York hospital. He was due to appear in court on charges of involvement in the terrorist attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Observers say that the terrorist attack in Tripoli could further frustrate hopes to move the dialogue back to Libya, especially given the ongoing fighting on all fronts and security breaches on both sides.

Meanwhile, Operation Dignity commander General Khalifa Haftar says he has received sufficient support from regional forces to turn the battle in Benghazi in his favour within only days. He said he is prepared to accept any settlement approved by the Libyan people to restore security and normality to the country.

Some analysts see this as a signal that the general realises how difficult it will be to settle the battle on the ground and that this may constitute a turning point conducive to the success of peace talks, especially in light of the recent attention given to the idea of a settlement based on a power-sharing formula.

As difficult as such an idea might seem, given each side’s insistence on its mutually exclusive claims to legitimacy, the UN envoy’s efforts to rearrange the scene could open horizons that would inspire the two sides to come to terms.

That said, a number of prerequisites would need to prevail. Prime among these is the neutrality of regional and international parties, a halt to all logistical support that enables militias and combatants to re-arm and mobilise militias, and sustained diplomatic pressure to compel them to remain engaged in the UN-sponsored dialogue.

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