Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Ban Ki-moon in Tripoli

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has paid a special visit to the Libyan capital in an effort to promote the country’s national dialogue, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The second round of dialogue between representatives from the elected Libyan parliament and MPs who are boycotting the parliament’s sessions opened on Saturday in the Libyan capital Tripoli, with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presiding.

The UN’s special envoy to Libya, Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon, also attended, along with Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini; first deputy speaker of the House of Representatives in Tobruk, Emhemed Shaib; and Fathi Bashagha, MP from Misrata and one of the participants in the talks that started in Ghadames two weeks ago.

Ban Ki-moon appealed to the warring factions in Libya to cease hostilities, calling on the forces of retired General Khalifa Haftar and the Ansar Al-Sharia group to halt their military operations, withdraw their forces from all cities, airports and government institutions in both east and west Libya, and enter into a comprehensive dialogue to end the crisis and restore stability to the country.

He re-affirmed the UN’s commitment to support peace in Libya, and, referring to the two parliaments in east and west Libya, underscored the need for Libya to have a single parliament that represents all the Libyan people. Legitimacy requires inclusiveness and consensus over important decisions, he said, adding that Libya needs a national unity government that has full political support.

The UN Security Council and international community cannot accept the ongoing bloodshed or the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, he said, adding that the spread of terrorism is a matter of concern for both Libya and the international community.

In reply, the Libyan government expressed its appreciation for the top UN official’s visit and his speech, which it described as a constructive effort to bridge the points of view of the House of Representatives and those of MPs who are boycotting the sessions in Tobruk. It also welcomed the UN’s support for the elected parliament and the government that emerges from this parliament.

In a press release, the government said that Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Libya came as part of UN efforts to contain the fighting in the country and create a climate of trust conducive to the national dialogue process that all Libyan people seek in the hope of rescuing their country from war and destruction.

“The Libyan government will spare no efforts to ensure the success of the national dialogue it has called for,” the statement said, adding that it would support all international and local efforts to spare the country the miseries of war.

The statement concluded with an appeal to all the militias, especially the Libya Dawn militias that have seized control of the capital, to “take this historic opportunity to sincerely and faithfully support the causes of the nation and to adopt a spirit of responsibility with regard to the fate of the country.”

The dialogue comes in the framework of talks that began in the southwestern city of Ghadames on 29 September. Participants at that meeting, referred to as the “12+12 dialogue”, called for an immediate ceasefire in all parts of the country. The dialogue brought together 12 members of parliament who have been forced by the conflict to meet in Tobruk with 12 representatives who are boycotting the sessions in the same city,

Their call went unheeded, however, and fighting continues to rage in the capital, the western mountain area and Benghazi.

In an initial reaction to the UN secretary-general’s visit to the capital to take part in the second round of the talks, Benghazi MP Tareq Saqr Al-Jaroushi criticised Ban Ki-moon for visiting Tripoli rather than Tobruk, which is hosting the Libyan parliamentary sessions.

Al-Jaroushi is the son of Saqr Al-Jaroushi, who has been serving as airforce commander with the forces of General Haftar. As he said, “Tripoli has been kidnapped by groups that support terrorism and reject the legitimacy of the elected parliament.”

From the other side, the boycotting faction, Fathi Bashagha said in remarks published on the Libyan news website that Ban Ki-moon would head next to Egypt to ask the authorities in Cairo not to intervene in Libya’s domestic affairs.

Bashagha was also quoted as saying that the UN secretary-general’s special envoy, Bernadino Leon, will travel to the UAE to ask the authorities there not to intervene in Libyan matters. In the same report, Bashagha confirmed that talks had begun between the UN and the revolutionaries. “The revolutionaries do not reject dialogue but they fear its outcomes,” Bashagha said.

The Libyan factions are also preparing to take part in an Algerian-sponsored dialogue set for the second half of October. Official sources in Algiers have announced that they have begun to send out invitations to all parties concerned.

However, the recently appointed Libyan foreign minister, Mohammed Al-Dairi, said in an interview with the Bawabat al-Wasat newspaper that his government has no knowledge of the Algerian-sponsored dialogue and the participant parties. This may be a sign of the negative attitude of the recently formed Abdullah Al-Thinni government toward the Algerian peace initiative.

Shortly before the Eid holiday, MPs in Tobruk complained that they had not received invitations from Algeria. The Algerian authorities subsequently responded that they had only begun to send out the invitations this week.

While the Algerian initiative appears to be going ahead with the strong support of the UN, a sharp difference of opinion between Egypt and Algeria over management of the Libyan crisis is unfolding behind the scenes. The problem apparently stems from the fact that Algeria was entrusted with handling the security dimension of the crisis, in accordance with the agreement reached at the meeting between foreign ministers of Libya’s neighbouring countries held in Tunisia two months ago, while Egypt was assigned the political dimension.

Libyan factions on the ground in Benghazi, among them the Islamist-oriented Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries and the Libya Dawn forces that have seized control of Tripoli, have accused Egypt and the UAE of launching air attacks against them. They say that Egypt, in their view, is not an honest broker and that they prefer Algeria’s mediation efforts.

But their political adversaries, including the Abdullah Al-Thinni government and the elected parliament, have greater confidence in the Egyptian role. Tensions over this issue could become one of the major stumbling blocks for the dialogue process.

In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Leon said that the second round of the Ghadames talks would bring on board militia commanders. Speaking to the Weekly, he expressed his confidence in the talks between the two blocs of parliamentary members.

Elsewhere in Libya, an official from the Libyan Special Forces, which supports General Haftar’s Operation Dignity campaign, announced this week that seven soldiers from this side had died in battles against the forces of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries and the Ansar Al-Sharia in fighting near the Banina airforce base in Benghazi.

The military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the battles were “the fiercest we have seen in days.” He said that the Special Forces had driven out militia groups from residential quarters.

Also in Benghazi, Saqr Al-Jaroushi, airforce commander for the Operation Dignity campaign, said that aerial operations were continuing against the positions of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries in the city.

“Our planes carried out a mission against a group of fighters in the camp of the 319 Infantry Brigade, which is located in the Bouatni area,” he said. “The fighters hit their targets directly.” He said that the aerial operations were carried out following intensive reconnaissance to identify the targets.

The 319 Infantry Brigade camp has been under the control of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR) since 21 July. Operation Dignity forces have only been operating out of Al-Rajma Heights area and the Banina airforce base, which has two airports, one civilian and the other military.

The airbase is Haftar’s most important stronghold, which explains why the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries wants to seize control of it. It is also likely that the military aircraft used by Haftar’s forces to carry out aerial attacks against the SCBR and Ansar Al-Sharia are using this base.

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