Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Libya’s new UN envoy is named

New UN envoy to Libya Martin Kobler faces multiple crises as he tries to restart the country’s political dialogue, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The new UN envoy, Martin Kobler, has a formidable job ahead of him. His major tasks will be to mend the wounds caused by his Spanish predecessor among the Libyan factions, especially now that it has become clear that he was working for a country that is a party to the Libyan crisis and that worked to fuel the civil war.

The former UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, has left behind deep scars in the UN mediating body overseeing the dialogue process, especially in the light of the leaks in the UK newspaper the Guardian regarding a meeting between Leon and the UAE’s foreign minister.

The report revealed the extent of Leon’s bias in favour of the House of Representatives and the Libyan faction backed by the UAE, which has rewarded him with the post of director of the UAE Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi, plus other undisclosed perks.

Kobler, the German diplomat named as the new UN envoy to Libya, will have to restart the entire dialogue process before it can resume, as Leon is seen as having poisoned the UN’s mediating role.

This extends to the composition of the presidential council in the proposed national consensus government, which gave rejectionist hawks on both sides a strong pretext for persisting in their intransigence. Nor was there a joint statement from the parties to the crisis that would have established beyond a shadow of a doubt the progress made under Leon’s management.

The main factions — the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the GNC in Tripoli — did not adopt a clear final position on the last round of the dialogue that took place in early October. Both camps have been plagued by severe discord in their ranks, which has prevented them from formulating a clear vision for the country, either in the event that a settlement is reached or that negotiations break down entirely.

Neither side will be able to push for a final settlement unless it includes combatants in the negotiating process. Leon was unable to bring representatives of the militia factions to the negotiating table, despite efforts during the expanded round in Geneva, including a negotiating track for militia commanders to determine the security arrangements.

Among the obstacles that Kobler will encounter, Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that military commander Khalifa Hiftar has insisted that a fourth deputy from Benghazi be appointed to represent him in the presidential council, indicating that he is determined to maintain his influence in the political fray. Hiftar has strong support from the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aqila Saleh, and important eastern tribal leaders.

Faced with such difficulties at the outset, Kobler will need strong international support if he is to persuade the Libyan factions to return to the dialogue process and make the concessions necessary to sign a final accord and form a national unity government.

For the international community, a unified government in Libya would make it much easier to respond to the needs of the Libyan people. This would be far preferable to the current state of anarchy and institutional paralysis that has become entrenched in the east, the most fluid region, in the light of a flurry of political and security developments. Hiftar’s forces, legitimised by the House of Representatives, have failed to assert their control over Benghazi. The city is now in its second year of destruction and social disintegration as a result of the civil war.

The first sign of international support for the new UN envoy came from his home country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she fully supports Kobler in his mission and urged the Libyan parties to move forward towards a final settlement.

UN Security Council members issued a joint statement on Saturday encouraging the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) “to advance relevant efforts for the co-ordination of international assistance to the future Government of National Accord.”

The council stressed its continued concern over “the ongoing political, security and institutional crises and the rising threat of terrorism,” and threatened to impose sanctions against those threatening peace, stability and security in Libya, or those working to undermine the success of the political transition process.

“The Political Agreement for the Government of National Accord finalised by the Libyan parties in October offers a real prospect for resolving the situation,” the council members said in a statement, noting that the agreement was reached after broad consultations within the framework of the Libyan-led and Libyan-owned dialogue process facilitated by the UN.

The statement cautioned against “activities that could damage the integrity and unity of the Libyan state’s financial institutions and the National Oil Company” and underscored how important it was for these to continue to function for the benefit of all Libyans.

It added that the Security Council’s sanctions committee is prepared to name those who are threatening peace, stability and security in Libya or are working to undermine the success of the political transition process.

Expressing their concerns over “the ongoing fighting, destruction and growing humanitarian toll in various parts of the country,” the council members called for an immediate end to the violence.

They condemned the continued attacks by the Islamic State (IS) group, Ansar Al-Sharia and groups affiliated with Al-Qaida in Libya, particularly in Sirte, and stressed the urgent need to deal with them effectively. They affirmed their strong commitment to Libya’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Also on Saturday, interim Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni reinstated Mohamed Al-Dairi as minister of foreign affairs, terminating the decree that had appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Al-Saghir to serve as acting prime minister during Al-Dairi’s period of suspension.

Al-Thinni, whom Hiftar has twice prevented from travelling abroad, still faces enormous pressures from pro-Hiftar tribes and militia groups, to the extent that his residence in Beida has become almost like an unofficial prison.

The government recently announced that it wants to move its headquarters from Beida to Musaid, near the border with Egypt, to improve its security. This follows an attempt to prevent government members from entering state premises in Beida, which is a stronghold of the Bara’sa tribe, a strong supporter of Hiftar and mostly affiliated to the former Gaddafi regime.

Elsewhere in the east of the country, fighting continues to rage in Benghazi, causing more destruction. Renewing his pledge to liberate the war-ravaged city within three weeks, Hiftar has pressed ahead with his “Operation Iron Fist”, which he said “will be the end” of the fighting. However, it is expected that this new deadline will only be the latest in a growing record of lapses.

In an unexpected development, fighters serving under so-called axis commanders fighting alongside Hiftar’s forces in Benghazi raided Hiftar’s operations room in Benghazi and expelled its commander, Ali Al-Thaman. They claimed that Al-Thaman was withholding ammunition from the fighters and called on Hiftar to come to Benghazi himself to liberate the operations room.

The “axis commanders” come from the Bedouin tribes in the Benghazi area that have allied with Hiftar in the battle to gain control of Libya’s eastern capital and second-largest city. Because many of these tribal leaders favour a federal system, however, they do not see eye to eye with Hiftar on this, as well as on other issues, even if they have allied with him in the battle for Benghazi.

If Hiftar does eventually succeed in gaining control over the city, the tribes may then turn against him, as they believe they deserve to run the city, much of which has been reduced to rubble due to aerial bombardment under Hiftar’s command. This has generated the largest number of displaced persons in the country, according to figures from the Libyan Red Crescent.

As for western Libya, the Libyan Red Crescent’s mediating efforts between IS, which controls Sirte, and leaders in Misrata has succeeded in brokering an exchange of prisoners and bodies, which took place in the village of Abu Qarin, west of Sirte.

According to local sources, the IS members and bodies that were released from Misrata were of both Libyan and foreign nationality. The terrorist organisation also handed over five truck drivers it had detained several weeks ago at the Al-Lod agricultural project west of Sirte. The drivers had been heading south to deliver shipments of wheat, relief supplies and fuel.

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