Issue No.1326, 5 January, 2017      03-01-2017 09:35AM ET

Peace still out of reach

Libya continues to roil in political and military conflict ahead of fresh attempts to rescue the Skhirat Libyan Political Accord, writes Kamel Abdallah

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The opening days of the new year brought renewed Egyptian and Algerian efforts to contain a new escalation in the political and military crisis in Libya in advance of a new round of talks expected to take place soon with the purpose of revising and renegotiating parts of the Libyan Political Accord (LPA) that was signed in Skhirat, Morocco, 17 December 2015.

Sources close to the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli told Al-Ahram Weekly that a meeting, sponsored by Algeria, due Wednesday between Presidency Council Chairman Fayez Al-Sarraj and the commander general of the Libyan Army in the east, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Although sources stated that the “results will not be publicised,” they anticipate that the meeting will produce new understandings that could pave the way for progress in the political process which has been floundering for over a year.

Haftar told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he is not was not willing to meet with Al-Sarraj in Algiers and he was not willing to negotiate with certain militias in Tripoli.

In late December, Field Marshal Haftar visited Algeria where he met with Prime Minister Abdel-Malek Sellal and Minister of Maghreb Affairs Abdel-Kader Messahel. According to Libyan sources, Haftar told the Algerian officials that he was determined to press ahead with his military campaign to secure control of Tripoli that is currently in the grip of rival Islamist militia groups, a stance that Algiers fears will only lead to further deterioration and cause the security situation to spiral out of control in western Libya, which is steeped in very intricate socio-political conflicts.

Shortly after the Haftar visit, the GNA’s Al-Sarraj flew to Algeria for a meeting with Sellal and Messahel who presented him with an Algerian initiative that seeks to unify the Libyan armed forces under the command of the Presidency Council in its capacity as the supreme authority during the remaining period of the current interim phase in Libya.

According to Libyan sources, the initiative, a copy of which had been handed to Haftar during his visit, proposes appointing General Haftar as defence minister in the GNA and conferring the post of general chief of staffs on an officer affiliated with Misrata. The authors of the initiative believe that this step will strike a balance within the military establishment between the two largest military forces in the country at present and forestall conflict between them. Yesterday, Wednesday Haftar was scheduled to meet Sarraj. And in the meantime, Musa Al-Koni resigned as deputy prime minister.

Likewise, there are signs of an escalation of the military situation in southern Libya and the Union of the Revolutionaries of the City of Misrata have also scheduled a meeting to take place tomorrow, Saturday.

In early December, before the meetings with Haftar and Sarraj, Algiers invited Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh for talks with Sellal and Messahel on developments in the Libyan political crisis.

During this period, Cairo organised three meetings with a range of Libyan political and social leaders, activists, journalists, intellectuals and House of Representatives members. The latter met separately with the Egyptian committee charged with monitoring the Libyan situation, which is chaired by Egyptian Chief of Staffs Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazi.

The meetings began mid-December. The first was attended by more than 40 Libyan figures and the second by more than 30 intellectuals, journalists and other influential social figures among whom were representatives of the former regime in Libya. In the last meeting, which took place earlier this week, a number of House of Representatives members met with Lieutenant General Hegazi in order to bridge points of view in the hope of reaching a political settlement to the Libyan crisis.

A press release issued by the Egyptian committee on Libya stated that the meeting was held “to follow through on efforts that seek to resolve the points of dispute that caused the political deadlock in Libya” and to create “mechanisms that will contribute to the political settlement and that will include all parties involved in this crisis and, above all, the members of the House of Representatives and the members of the Libyan Council of State.”

The statement expressed hope that these efforts will help ease the suffering of the Libyan people.

The participants in the meetings in Cairo are known to favour the Egyptian position, which supports General Haftar and House of Representatives Speaker Saleh. In a meeting with officials in Cairo last week, Saleh discussed a number of demands, including renegotiating the LPA, changing the Libyan dialogue committee, reducing the number of Presidency Council members from nine to three (a president and two vice-presidents), and bolstering General Haftar’s position in the political/security process.

UN Special Envoy to Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Martin Kobler stated that the question of whether or not to alter the LPA is up to the Libyan people, but he stressed that it was important to identify which articles needed amending before proceeding in this direction. The statement further whetted General Haftar’s appetite to press forward with his military expeditions in the south in order to strengthen his position on the ground in advance of new negotiations that are expected to begin February.

The security situation in Tripoli and southern Libya has been growing steadily worse and more complicated, especially following the escalatory steps taken by the pro-Haftar General Mohamed Ben Nayel who announced that he had seized control of Barak Al-Shati airbase where the Third Force, which is allied with Misrata, had been stationed until recently. Observers fear that this development will open a new southern front in the civil war. Already commanders of Operation Bunyan Marsus, whose forces are drawn primarily from Misrata, have threatened to retaliate against any attacks against the Third Force in the south. The situation has also aggravated the rapidly increasing tensions between the militia groups that control the capital and other parts of western Libya.

Against this highly volatile backdrop, the reopening of the LPA for negotiation furnishes the tinder that could easily reignite armed conflict between rival Libyan factions and compound the fragmentation of fragile alliances between the various parties which, for more than two years, have been unable to agree on a clear political process that would lead to a resolution of the Libyan crisis and steer the country to social and economic recovery. The increased fragmentation and multiplication of lines of polarisation will only put a viable solution further out of reach, even if regional stakeholders in the Libyan crisis stand a better chance of reaching a settlement in 2017, given regional and international developments.

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