Libya’s internationally-recognized parliament recalled its delegates from peace talks in Morocco on Tuesday, just five days before a UN set deadline for signing a deal it hopes will drag the country out of the civil war.
MPs, currently based in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk, expressed their “dismay” at the latest draft released on Monday which they claimed bowed to the demands of the country’s rival legislature in Tripoli and contradicted « everything that has been agreed on previously”.
The document includes amendments proposed by the General National Congress, a defunct body resurrected by armed coalition Libya Dawn that swept control of the capital last summer sparking the civil war.
The parliament added it was disappointed by the UN decision to acquiesce to the GNC’s continued pursuit of amending a text already signed by a part of the dialogue members in July.
“We are surprised about the GNC’s insistence on reopening the door to amendments [to the draft deal] and on discussing starting points once again,” the House of Representatives statement read. “We also express our dismay at UNSMIL’s readiness to give in despite us having made all possible compromises in order to reach an agreement and form a government of national accord,” it added.
Last week Libya’s warring factions had started another round of peace talks to end the war dividing the country. After four days of talks, UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon announced on Sunday that parties had reached a “consensus on the main elements” of the agreement.
“We believe that this text will be voted by the two parties… and will be endorsed by the rest of the participants in the coming days”, Leon said, emphasizing the looming UN deadline of 20 September.
“This deadline must be the last one, must be the one that will allow Libya to get out of this crisis”, he told the dialogue teams.
But Leon’s optimism could not hide the tensions at the negotiating table which bubbled to the surface after parties received the revised agreement. The latest amendments represent a clear shift in balance in favour of the rival parliament in Tripoli.
Western powers are pressing for the UN-sponsored deal to form a national unity government between Libya’s rival factions whose conflict is pushing the North African state deeper into chaos four years after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
The HoR and its government operate out of the east of the country after being forced out of Tripoli by Libya Dawn and the GNC, Libya’s former parliament until the HoR was elected last year.
The draft has ricocheted between the increasingly polarized two camps who have yet to find common ground, despite the escalating lawlessness and a flourishing insurgency gripping the country.
In July the HoR’s dialogue team and independent dialogue members accepted a preliminary deal but the GNC refused to sign, and staged a walkout insisting on nine amendments that would substantially alter the text.
Their main demands, and the most controversial ones, are that all current GNC members, who predominantly support Libya Dawn, be included in the future State Council, a consultative organ in the new state design, and that the State Council be given wider powers.
Leon had assured participants in a late-night press conference on Sunday that the latest changes were “small” and would not substantially alter the content. But he added that the GNC’s nine remarks had been introduced into the main text and the annexes.
The revised agreement says that the future State Council will consist of 145 councillors, including all of the GNC’s current members in addition to 11 of those elected in July 2012 who are no longer in the GNC, after leaving in protest against its policies. Previously the text suggested that seats in the State Council would be given to the « original » members.
The GNC dialogue team welcomed the revised agreement on Monday, saying that the amendments had been added “in a positive way”. Putting the ball in the HoR’s court, the GNC team appealed to all parties to “take responsibility and put the nation’s interests first.”
In response the HoR rejected the amended document and insisted on the validity of the agreement they signed in July, only agreeing to discuss the annexes, as long as they did not contradict the main text.
Aissa Abdelgayum, a member of the HoR dialogue team, voiced his objections on Facebook, highlighting in particular Article 73, which says that the annexes are an inseparable part of the political agreement and have the same legal weight as the main body of the text.
“The sixth draft of the political agreement outlines three principles : the HoR is the only legislative authority while the State Council is the highest consultative organ, the GNA shall work in accordance with the Constitutional Declaration and the separation of powers shall be respected,” he wrote.
“But then the draft throws it all out, violating these same principles in other sections… UNSMIL needs to address the contradictions between the text and the annexes and not give in to blackmail,” he wrote.
“We want a strong agreement to end the crisis, not a fragile power-sharing deal,” he added.
Independent dialogue members Sharif al-Wafi on Tuesday threatened to pull out of the dialogue altogether.
Meanwhile mixed messages have come from Tripoli, where GNC president Nuri Busahmain told local media that the GNC would not sign any agreement that does not respect a Supreme Court ruling last year that invalidated the HoR and that does not exclude “coupists”, to thinly veiled reference to Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan army with a mandate from the HoR.
The UN has not said what would happen if the September 20 deadline is not met. The HoR’s initial mandate expires on October 20, adding additional pressure for a deal.
Parliamentarians have called for an extension of the HoR until the end of the transitional period “so that the country does not descend into chaos and constitutional void”.