Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Libya’s neighbours face a time-lag

Military developments on the ground in Libya are outstripping political and diplomatic initiatives, writes Kamel Abdallah

Shoukri, Al-Jahinawi and Messahel at a press conference in Algiers
Shoukri, Al-Jahinawi and Messahel at a press conference in Algiers

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Tunisian counterpart Khamis Al-Jahinawi arrived in Algiers for two days of talks with Algerian Foreign Minister Abdel-Qader Messahel. The talks are being held within the framework of continuing tripartite consultations between Libya’s neighbours.

Algerian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abdel-Aziz bin Ali Al-Sherif told the Algeria Press Service (APS) the three ministers will “assess efforts by Libyans, neighbours and others in the international community to encourage Libyans to agree on a final settlement to the crisis”.

During the first tripartite meeting, held in February in the Tunisian capital, Libya’s three neighbours expressed their support for the 2015 Skhirat agreement and a political rather than military solution to the Libyan crisis. They were commitments Shoukri reiterated in Algiers on Monday.

“A political solution based on Skhirat is the only solution to the ongoing crisis in Libya,” said Shoukri. He went on, according to statements made by Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid, to stress the importance of coordinating the positions of Egypt and Algeria since they are Libya’s direct neighbours and the countries most threatened by worsening conditions there.

On arriving in Algiers Shoukri met with Messahel who only became Algeria’s top diplomat after a cabinet shuffle by President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika a few days earlier. The two officials exchanged views on recent developments in Libya in preparation for the three-way ministerial meeting and briefed one another on their communications with other Libyan players.

After meeting with Shoukri, Messahel told the press they had discussed ways “to assist the Libyans to resolve their problems without foreign intervention”. The region, he said, was “under threat from terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration” and “constant and continued” coordination between Algeria and Egypt was essential to confront these challenges.

The tripartite meeting on Libya was held against a backdrop of military escalation in several areas and notable advances by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Haftar’s troops captured the vital Jufra airbase which under Muammar Gaddafi had served the Libyan army’s command centre on 18 May. It had been under the control of Third Force troops affiliated with the Misrata Military Council which declared support for the national consensus government 18 months ago.

Progress made by Haftar’s LNA coincides with significant assistance from Egypt which carried out air strikes targeting the LNA’s rivals and the strongholds of terrorist Islamist groups based in Derna in eastern Libya and in Jufra, base to the Benghazi Defence Brigade and Third Force. The strikes forced the Third Force and Benghazi Defence Brigade to abandon strategic positions to forces allied with the LNA. Libyan sources say secret coordination allowed a neutral force to be assigned to secure the southern region though this information has not been confirmed. Libyan sources also say the Hasawna Brigade which two years ago was delegated to secure Ubari is close to deploying in the area once an understanding is reached among parties in the south.

Earlier this month the Presidential Council of the consensus government led by Fayez Al-Sarraj announced the creation of seven military zones — Tripoli, Benghazi, Wusta, Gharbiya, Sabha, Tobruk and Kufra — covering the whole of Libya. It specified that a commander and deputy commander would be assigned to each zone, appointed by the commander-in-chief of the Libyan army. The regional commander will ensure military discipline, train and raise combat troops and be responsible for leading these forces in peace and war. The commander will also propose ideas for troop organisation and cooperation with regional leaderships and administrations. Furthermore, the Military General Staff will be responsible for meeting all the needs of regional military zones in terms of troops and the Defence Ministry will fund the restructuring and reorganisation of units in military zones.

On Sunday the Presidential Council appointed Osama Al-Jeweili, the chairman of the Zintan Military Council and a former defence minister who served in the cabinet of Abdel-Rehim Al-Keib, as commander of the Gharbiya Military Zone. General Mohamed Al-Hadad, leader of the Halboos Brigade, a Misrata-based militia, was appointed commander of the Wusta Military Zone.

Al-Sarraj’s decision to create military zones and appoint military commanders met with mixed reactions, not least because the decisions are unenforceable given the divisions and ambiguous positions of Libya’s main players. Ahmed Al-Mismari, spokesman for the LNA’s General Command, said he does not recognise Al-Sarraj’s decisions which are “unconstitutional”. Parliament also criticised the decree, issuing a statement on Saturday insisting “this decision and all decisions by the Presidential Council contravene the Constitutional Declaration and Libyan court rulings”. It added: “The recent decision is not only unconstitutional but contradicts parliament’s initial approval of the political agreement on 25 January 2016 which stipulates that Article 8 be cancelled. It even contradicts the text of the unconstitutional political agreement.”

The statement continued: “These actions and decisions undermine all domestic and international efforts to reach consensus among Libyans.”

Al-Sarraj was accused by Fathi Al-Mijabri, vice president of the Presidential Council, of deciding on the military zones without first consulting with other council members.

The political process and diplomatic efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis are clearly lagging behind military developments, which undermines domestic, international and regional diplomatic and political initiatives. The danger is this is happening at a time when Libya’s key players are more reliant than ever on regional and international powers.

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