Sunday,15 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)
Sunday,15 July, 2018
Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Slow progress, if any

Talks between Libyan factions are due to resume this week, though little common ground has been found so far, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The UN-sponsored dialogue between rival Libyan factions is due to recommence today in Skhirat, south of the Moroccan capital Rabat. The meeting was postponed for a week following a request submitted to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) by one of the factions, the House of Representatives in Tobruk.

The group said it needed time to study the proposals presented at the first Skhirat round, held from 5-7 March. But while talks proceed in Morocco, fighting continues in several parts of Libya. The Islamic State (IS) has intensified its assaults in the centre of the country, where the majority of Libyan oil wells are located.

The Tobruk, House of Representatives, delegation’s lack of cohesion during the first round stirred angry reactions among the camp last week. Some have called for a boycott of the talks, in which the rival parliament in Tripoli is taking part, or for the dialogue to be moved to Libya.

During the interval, the House of Representatives summoned its negotiating team for consultations. The team is headed by the first deputy speaker of the house, Emhamed Shouaib; a pro-federalist MP from Benghazi, Abu Bakr Baira; and a MP from Sebha Saleh, Hummah.

On Wednesday last week, the Tobruk parliament decided to bolster its negotiating team with a team of MPs and a delegation of journalists and media figures. The parliamentary team is to include seven members representing the “hawks” in the assembly, and its function in Morocco will be to demonstrate support for the stances of the negotiating team.

Members of the House of Representatives also insisted on some form of documentation for the guarantees that were expressed orally by UN envoy Bernardino Leon to members of parliament two weeks ago.

These guarantees concerned recognition of the assembly, which was popularly elected last summer, as the legitimate parliament and source of authority.

In its session Thursday last week, which was dedicated to the dialogue and whether or not to continue with it, House of Representatives members established a set of basic national principles to be included in the roadmap for the UNSMIL-sponsored dialogue between Libyan factions.

MP Fahmi Al-Tawati explained that the principles declared by the assembly, in its capacity as the sole legislative authority, were intended “to avert the dangers that threaten the security of the country.”

“These principles must be discussed, approved in writing by all sides, and implemented under the supervision of representatives from the international community,” said Al-Tawati.

Foremost among these principles, as Al-Tawati expressed them, are “commitment to national territorial integrity, commitment to the democratic course and the peaceful rotation of authority, and commitment to halting media rhetoric that fuels strife.” Another principle stated, “The Libyan army is not a party to the conflict; it is an instrument for the protection of the state.”

Others included: “The need to acknowledge that terrorism exists and to commit to a halt to combat on all fronts and to the withdrawal of armed militias and the surrender of all forms of arms.”

The principles also called for a “commitment to enabling the return of displaced persons to their homes, to accelerating the completion of a draft constitution, and to the implementation of transitional justice.”

Al-Tawati noted that a copy of the statement of principles has been sent to the international community, “so that [the statement] can form a cornerstone of the dialogue and serve as a basis on which to build the criteria for a national consensus government following the approval by all participants in the dialogue.”

A parallel round of talks between representatives of Libyan tribes was scheduled to convene in Cairo this week but was postponed due to differences over the venue. A number of tribes refused to hold the meeting outside Libya.

The talks between Libyan tribes is the third of the four tracks of the UNSMIL-sponsored Libyan dialogue, as defined by UNSMIL when talks resumed in Geneva in January this year. The first track involves the major political factions; the second brings together representatives of elected municipal and local councils; the third is the dialogue between tribal representatives; and the fourth track is between representatives of militia groups.

In a related development, Algeria hosted talks between Libyan political party leaders and activists on Tuesday and Wednesday last week. Participants agreed to support the UNSMIL-sponsored dialogue.

Saleh Al-Atyush, chief of the Magharba tribe, was one of those who rejects the principle of holding talks outside Libya. The Libyan Al-Wasat newspaper quoted Al-Atyush as saying: “We Libyan tribes are a cohesive social fabric. We have no differences that require international mediation to mend rifts between us.”

He continued: “If we met with UN envoy Bernardino Leon would he listen to our advice and act on it? Or would he, as the saying goes, ‘consult and ignore’?”

Al-Atyush added: “If the meetings in Geneva, Morocco and Algeria were useless, what’s the point of meeting in Cairo, with all due respect to Egypt’s role in supporting legitimacy and our army in the fight against terrorism?

“If the Libyan tribes met, it would only be in Libya, on our national territory where they are rooted, and where they have their place, their influence, and their role,” Al-Atyush said.

“The tribal notables and leaderships are what are authentic in Libya. The politicians and others are recent and passing phenomena. The circumstances that gave rise to them are the very circumstances that make them meet outside the nation or anywhere.”

Al-Atyush said that meetings will be held in a few days. All the tribes of Cyrenaica, Fazan and Tripoli will take part, as was agreed during a meeting of the tribes of Cyrenaica in Beida in eastern Libya.

The Magharba tribal leader also stressed that UNSMIL should not regard the legitimacy of the House of Representatives and the “coup makers” as equal. “This is the first step to a real dialogue,” he said, adding, “The House of Representatives is the sponsor of the national dialogue, not a party in it. The UN envoy should realise this.”

The Magharba, based in the Libyan “petroleum crescent”, is a powerful tribe that carries considerable negotiating weight in the current crisis. It currently controls the major oil exporting ports and one of its members led the blockade that brought a halt to oil exports for a full year following a dispute with former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

Members of this tribe have long been in charge of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, responsible for protecting the oil-exporting ports. The tribe also has a prominent role in the military establishment. Colonel Wanis Boukhamada Al-Maghrabi, commander of the Special Forces (commandos), is from this tribe.

The chairman of the Council of Libyan Notables for Reconciliation, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Mubshir, agrees that the tribes should not meet outside Libya, “unless this is in order to discuss the question of refugees and displaced persons.”

With regard to the ongoing hostilities in Libya, forces from Operation Sunrise, an offshoot of Operation Libya Dawn, clashed with an IS militia in Harawa, a village 75 kms east of Sirte. IS fighters took control of the village for several hours before Sunrise forces ousted them from the village.

According to statements by IS operatives on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, the reason that fighting broke out between their fighters, who they call “soldiers of the caliph,” and Libya Dawn was that four of their men had been arrested in Sirte two days earlier.

They claim that the detainees were tortured. They add that three of the detainees have been released, but that they have no information on the fate of the fourth.

The Libyan IS organisation warned “the people of the city of Misrata” to withdraw their “mercenaries” or else they would “drag their city into a war they could not sustain.”

Sources from Harawa say that the clashes began when IS gunmen manning an illegal checkpoint between the villages of Al-Sadra and Harawa stopped an armoured vehicle belonging to Libya Dawn forces that was on its way back from Al-Sadra.

Hand-to-hand fighting broke out between the men in the vehicle and the persons manning the checkpoint. A second Libya Dawn vehicle, which had been following the first, opened fire on the checkpoint, killing a senior IS area commander. The Libya Dawn vehicles then fled into Harawa for protection. When IS gunmen pursuing them entered the village and the two sides began to shoot at each other.

Sources from Al-Nofliya, where IS forces are based, say that the organisation buried four of its members, killed in fighting with Libya Dawn forces in the Sid Arabi graveyard in that town.

They said that the wounded are being treated in a field hospital set up at a site known as the “Egyptian Company” by doctors that IS brought in after taking control of the town. The sources also confirmed the death of the commander of the terrorist organisation Misbah Al-Jafel. They said that his body was brought to Al-Nofliya after he was killed in clashes on the outskirts of Sirte.

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