Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan talks on hold?

Negotiations between conflicting Libyan factions are scheduled to return home, following two rounds in Geneva, though hostilities continue and are reportedly temporarily postponed, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The UN-sponsored Libyan dialogue was scheduled to be resumed on Tuesday in Libya. However, they were postponed indefinitely. The General National Congress (GNC), the legislative body that resurrected itself in Tripoli, agreed to attend this round, the third, after having boycotted the first two convened in January at the UN’s headquarters in Geneva.

Prior to this, the elected parliament currently sitting in Tobruk abolished the Political Isolation Law adopted by the GNC in May 2013. The law banned officials associated with the Gaddafi regime from holding political office. Observers fear that this step could complicate the UN-sponsored talks between Libya’s rival factions as the rescinding of the law could mean that representatives of the former regime will have to be invited to the negotiating table.

Despite international appeals for a ceasefire, hostilities continue to rage on all fronts. In the southwest a ceasefire failed to hold between Tuareg and Tebou tribes, which have been fighting over control of smuggling routes along the borders. Hundreds have been killed in the fighting and most of the residents of Awbari have been forced to flee their homes.

Clashes between the Tebou and Tuareg militias erupted again Sunday in the southwest city of Awbari. Eyewitnesses report that intermittent clashes flared in parts of the city but no casualties or major material damage were reported.

There is no state military presence in the city and Tebou fighters are reported to be using schools and government buildings as their bases, while Tuareg forces have their own camps.

According to the plan prepared by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), talks will be held separately between UN envoy Bernardino Leon and leaders of rival factions. The representatives of the Tobruk parliament will not speak directly with those of the GNC.

In the two rounds held at Le Palais des Nations in January, participants agreed to form an inclusive national unity government, to develop confidence-building measures between disputants on all fronts, to create safe corridors to permit for the treatment of those wounded due to ongoing combat, to supply essential needs to civilians, and to take urgent means and measures to address the conditions of displaced persons in Libya and to work to help them return to their homes immediately.

Resumption of the dialogue inside Libya meets a demand that all participants had agreed to from the outset of the talks, according to a statement released by UNSMIL at the conclusion of the second session in Geneva on 29 January.

MP Shoaib observed that the dialogue sessions held in Geneva had not broached the question of affiliates of the old regime directly, holding that representatives of all contingents should be included in the dialogue, together with all other parties. Political and ideological differences should be set aside because of the current emergency, he said.

Affiliates of the former regime were not invited to the previous rounds due to the ban imposed on them under the controversial Political Isolation Law, passed at gunpoint when militia forces laid siege to the GNC building in Tripoli on 5 May 2013.

Law 13/2013 specifically applies to “all who worked with the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from 1 September 1969 to 20 October 2011.” According to House of Representatives member Eissa Al-Arabi, on his Facebook page, the abolition of that law was passed by a majority of 101 votes. He did not mention how many members attended the session that day.

The actual venue of the third round could not be disclosed until the last moment. This had been deemed necessary as a security precaution, according to GNC member Emhemed Emazab, who addressed a press conference a week ago Tuesday, together with Leon, at the end of a final meeting between Leon and the GNC delegation.

The UN-sponsored dialogue between rival Libyan factions seeks to restore unity to the country’s governmental framework, which is now torn between two parliaments, the House of Representatives operating out of Tobruk and the resurrected GNC in Tripoli, and the two governments they appointed.

The hope is to forge a national unity government that will bring on board all parties and operate out of the capital in Tripoli, where ministerial and other government headquarters are located. The two rival governments lack the resources and capacities needed to manage the affairs of the country.

Libyans have grown more acutely aware of this given mounting hardships due to the warfare in Benghazi to the east and the petroleum crescent in the central part of the country, which prevents essential goods and commodities from reaching inhabitants of these areas.

Demonstrations were staged in Baida last week to protest the failure of the interim government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni to ensure the provision of essential needs to the people. Baida, the eastern city that is serving as the temporary capital, has suffered severe shortages in food supplies and electricity cuts.

Abolition of the Political Isolation Law was not the only controversy to erupt in Libya last week. Interior Minister Omar Al-Zanki announced that soldiers loyal to Operation Dignity commander General Khalifa Haftar obstructed the convoy of Prime Minister Al-Thinni and his delegation as it entered Benghazi, triggering an angry outcry from Haftar supporters.

Al-Zanki was quoted by Reuters last week as saying that Al-Thinni’s airplane was initially refused permission to land at Benghazi Airport. Later, after landing and disembarking, about 70 Operation Dignity soldiers intercepted Al-Thinni’s convoy on the way into the city.

Operation Dignity spokesman Major Mohammed Al-Hijazi charged that Al-Thinni had not received approval from the General Military Command before visiting the city and that the prime minister had an unauthorised meeting with the army command.

Observers see Al-Zanki’s announcement as a sign of a gulf that has arisen between the government and Haftar. This is further suggested by the interior minister’s statements to Radio Monte Carlo on Thursday, to the effect that Operation Dignity had fulfilled its mission and that it was the Libyan army that had liberated Benghazi.

The son of Saqar Al-Jurushi, commander of the air force in Operation Dignity, vowed an appropriate response. House of Representatives member Tareq Saqr Al-Jurushi is the vice-chairman of the interior affairs committee in that parliament. On his personal Facebook page he wrote that he would summon the interior minister for questioning and would have him dismissed in the event that he was late or failed to attend the hearing at the Tobruk parliament.

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