Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan rifts expose French role

While the UN-sponsored dialogue between Libyan factions edges on, controversy erupts at home that also reveals French violations of the international arms embargo on Libya, reports Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The two chief factions in the Libyan crisis have announced that they will soon be submitting nominees for posts in a national unity government that will be the subject of negotiations in upcoming rounds in the UN-sponsored dialogue currently being held in Morocco. The announcement is curious as the participants in the talks have yet to fully agree on the conditions for selecting candidates, the criteria of eligibility and the authority that will confer confidence to and supervise the activities of the national unity government. The House of Representatives that is meeting in Tobruk maintains that it is the sole legitimate authority that represents the Libyan people and that it, alone, has the right to approve and oversee the new government. Nor have the Libyan factions agreed on the security arrangements that will enable a cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of militias from Libyan cities and the disarmament of militias. Agreements on such issues have been impeded by sharply differing views on the concept of the national army and on the nature and role of their adversaries’ forces.

Mohamed Emazeb, a member of the negotiating delegation representing the resurrected General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, said that when the Libyan dialogue reconvenes in Morocco the next step would be for the House of Representatives and the GNC to elect two deputy prime ministers. The prime minister is to be elected by all parties and he will then be charged with selecting members of his government and presenting them for approval to the GNC and the House, in accordance with the UN proposal for forming a national unity government. According to Emazeb, this government will be authorised by both the GNC in Tripoli and the House of Representatives in Tobruk. He added that the GNC delegation submitted the UN draft proposal to GNC members in Tripoli who will study and register their observations on it in their specialised committees. Then, in the forthcoming session, the delegation will discuss the proposal in light of the observations, after which the meetings will turn to the matter of choosing the national unity government prime minister and his two deputies.

A member of the negotiating team representing the House of Representatives in Tobruk, Abu Bakr Baeira, said that the House would discuss candidates for the national unity government this week before the delegation heads back to Morocco. He added that preliminary nominations will be presented in the next round of the UN sponsored talks to be held in the coastal town of Skhirat, just south of the Moroccan capital Rabat.

When this report was submitted, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), sponsoring the Libyan dialogue, had made no announcement regarding the arrangements for the forthcoming session in Skhirat. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives announced that a parliamentary delegation would be heading to the US next week for a visit lasting several days. According to the news agency of the Libyan government in Beida, in eastern Libya, the delegation will consist of the heads of a number of parliamentary committees, as well as Abu Bakr Baeira, a member on the dialogue committee, and Abdel-Nabi Abdel-Mawla, a member of the anti-terrorism committee. The delegation is to meet members of Congress and White House officials with whom they will discuss questions of defence, national security, the fight against terrorism, developments in the Libyan dialogue and Libyan-US cooperation in diverse fields.

Talks in Skhirat are resuming against a backdrop of fracturing relations between the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni and the House of Representatives. On Friday, the prime minister lashed out at the House for refusing to approve the emergency budget his government needs in order to contend with mounting burdens. That refusal occurred amidst salvoes of mutual accusations and recriminations last week between the Al-Thinni and, primarily, the National Forces Alliance (NFA), which is led by parliamentary strong man Mahmoud Jibril.

Al-Thinni charged that some of the ministers in his government had been imposed on him by NFA leader Jibril who, according to Al-Thinni, tried to impose NFA MP Abdel-Majid Mleiqat as deputy prime minister. But Al-Thinni had to reject Mleiqat because he was too controversial a figure among many segments of Libyan opinion. Al-Thinni said that Jibril had also nominated three persons for the Foreign Ministry portfolio (Ahmed Jibril, a participant in the dialogue; Mohamed Al-Dairi, who was selected as foreign minister; and Hassan Al-Saghir, the current deputy foreign minister).

In a videotaped interview with the Libyan Al-Hadath newspaper, Al-Thinni also vented his anger against Libyan business tycoon Hassan Tatanaki who had lashed out, on a privately owned TV station against Al-Thinni for refusing to appoint him as head of the Libyan-African Investment Fund, even after 61 members of the House of Representatives had signed a petition in support of his appointment.

 Al-Thinni in the interview with Al-Hadath accused NFA Vice-President Mleiqat of mounting a vicious campaign against him for having refused to approve arms contracts with a French weapons company for ammunition for military aircraft currently in Egypt. With these remarks, Al-Thinni revealed the French role in fuelling the conflict in Libya during the past year. Mleiqat confirmed this in his response to Al-Thinni, whom he accused of obstructing the equipment of the Libyan army. According to Mleiqat, in spite of the UN Security Council arms embargo on the Libyan government, the French had offered 12 military aircrafts to Al-Thinni who, Mleiqat said, responded that he could only afford four. Mleiqat added that the French told Al-Thinni that they were not interested in the money immediately and that they could deliver the planes within 72 hours to whatever place he designated.

Mleiqat, who delivered his riposte to Al-Thinni in a letter to Al-Hadath, claimed that Al-Thinni confined himself to vague responses to the French in his meeting with them and Libyan Chief of Staffs Abdel-Razek Al-Nazouri in Cairo. Then, according to Mleiqat, once the meeting was over and Al-Nazouri had left, Al-Thinni allegedly said: “I will not go into any arms matter that would enable the commander of Operation Dignity Khalifa Haftar and his Chief of Staffs Abdel-Razek Al-Nazouri to control the army. I will not let them do that and I will leave them to drown in the Benghazi swamp that they had ignited.” Mleiqat related that Al-Nazouri was driven to inform House of Representatives Speaker Aqila Saleh about Al-Thinni’s behaviour. Saleh apparently told Al-Nazouri to sign the deal himself and bring the contract to him to approve. “A date was set, the agreement was signed, but we have learned nothing further since that moment,” wrote Mleiqat in his letter.

Mleiqat then charged that Al-Thinni’s complaints about having ministers forced on him were inaccurate and contradictory. Al-Thinni always had the right to refuse, he said. Moreover, Al-Thinni had asked Jibril to nominate several independent figures with the relevant expertise. “We did this, proposing three names: Ahmed Jibril, Hassan Al-Saghir and Mohamed Al-Dairi who was ultimately selected.”

Mleiqat also denied having launched a slur campaign against Al-Thinni in the press. “The NFA adopted a clear position from the day the government was formed and this was not to take part in it and to confine ourselves to supporting it.”

Al-Hadath also published a letter from Al-Thinni to French President Francois Hollande appealing for French military intervention in Libya. The letter further implicates the French in possible violations of the international embargo on arms sales to Libya.

The parallel government in Tripoli is also facing difficulties. The GNC dismissed Prime Minister Omar Al-Hassi as a preparatory step to progress in the Libyan dialogue and as a consequence of a dispute between him and his cabinet team and the GNC over budgetary questions and a report from the Auditing Bureau on the Tripoli government’s financial situation.

In the ongoing fighting on the ground, Daesh (the Islamic State) is meanwhile sustaining its attacks against Libya Dawn forces that have begun a military operation to free Sirte from Daesh control. The two sides have been clashing on the outskirts of Sirte, where Daesh forces are attacking the rear lines of Libya Dawn forces in the hope of obstructing their advance on Sirte. Daesh elements have also begun to attack locations in Misrata and the vicinity. Libya Dawn militias are affiliated with and commanded from Misrata.

In the area to the west of Tripoli, the battle continues to rage between Libya Dawn forces and tribal forces affiliated with the Gaddafi regime over the town of Al-Aziziya, the bastion of the Warshafana tribes whose forces are allied with the Libyan National Army (LNA) which is trying to assert its control over western Libya.

The relationship between the tribal forces and the LNA, which is affiliated with the parliament in Tobruk, is the subject of deep controversy between the two rival Libyan factions. Tenor of the controversy will evolve in tandem with developments on the ground, especially if the tribal forces supported by LNA contingents fail to recuperate the territories they lost to Libya Dawn forces. The Warshafana want the parliament to acknowledge and apologise for the injustices they claim were inflicted upon them during the past four years.

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