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Participants in the Libyan political Dialogue meet for second round of talks in Skhirat, Morocco on Friday 28 August

Libya rivals urged to sign peace deal, accept UN proposed unity government

World Leaders and the UN have urged Libya’s warring factions to approve a peace deal, after members of the rival parliament rejected a UN-proposed unity government, potentially scuppering attempts to end a year-long civil war.

UN envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon announced the joint body late Friday, despite representatives of the General National Congress boycotting the session.

The Spanish diplomat had hoped with the government named, they would push forward with signing the actual peace agreement.

But Leon’s decision to reveal the ministers’ names early was met with fierce backlash from members and supporters of the GNC, the legislature appointed by armed coalition Libya Dawn after it swept control of Tripoli last year, sparking the escalation of the Libyan conflict into a civil war.

Just a day before Leon’s announcement, the GNC had demanded last-minute amendments to the peace deal as a condition to putting forward its candidates.

Consequently several GNC nominees for the unity government refused to take the positions, calling Leon’s actions “illegitimate”.

The international community – increasingly concerned by the escalating violence and lawlessness in the country – has pushed for a speedy political solution.

“There is no more time to waste,” said a joint statement released by the governments of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States on Saturday.

“Delays in forming a unity government will only prolong the suffering of the Libyan people and benefit terrorists seeking to take advantage of the chaos,” it read.

The five countries also promised to “stand with” the new government vowing to ” isolate those who fail to respect the political agreement.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, echoing the joint statement, appealed to Libya’s leaders “not to squander this opportunity to put the country back on the path”.

“Now is the time for the parties to the political dialogue to endorse this proposal and sign the agreement without delay,” he said.

The UN Security Council also joined in urging everyone to sign the peace agreement and back the named government to “unite wholeheartedly… in a spirit of reconciliation behind this settlement.”

Libya has been torn in two by fighting since last summer, when Dawn took over Tripoli and appointed its own rival parliament and government. It forced the elected-parliament – the House of Representatives –  and its cabinet to operate over 1200km east in the cities of Tobruk and Bayda.

Forces loyal to both sides have been battling for control of strategic territory ever since. Amid the security vacuum, a flourishing insurgency has taken hold – with Islamic State Group and Al-Qaeda affiliates building strongholds along the Mediterrean coast. Heavily-armed smugglers have also exploited the lawlessness to run their lucrative people trafficking routes to Europe.

With an international refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism on its doorstep, Europe and the West have increasingly put pressure on the warring factions to come to an agreement.

A mounting humanitarian crisis has also spurred on talks.

The UN reported last week that nearly half the population of Libya is in need of protection and humanitarian aid, as millions lack access to food, healthcare, water and sanitation amid the fierce fighting.

These points Leon emphasized  in his Friday speech in Skhirat, Morocco when he made the decision to push ahead with naming the government.

“Too many Libyans have lost their lives, too many children have been suffering too many mothers have been suffering… For all of them our apologies for not having been able to propose this government before but also our joy because there is at least a chance,” he said.

“I would like to ask all these Libyans to think of an opportunity for their country. This was not an easy task. We have been listening to many people, inside and outside the dialogue. And we believe that this list can work,” he added.

He said his proposal was a ” reasonably good list of names, politicians, personalities” that he assured would take the country out of crisis.

The list he presented was a mix of representatives from different political factions with people from both the country’s governments and three regions.

Leon named Faiez al-Serraj as Prime Minister, a Tripoli-born engineer and member of the HoR. His deputies, Leon added, would include Ahmed Maiteeg, a Misratan businessman and Tripoli resident, who was Prime Minister for month in 2014 backed by GNC hardliners.

There would also be Fathi al-Majbari, current Minister of Education in the internationally-recognized government and Mussa al-Koni, a prominent member of the Tuareg minority from the south, a former diplomat in Mali, NTC member and independent dialogue member.

The trio represented the west, the wast and the south of the country, Leon said.

They would be backed by two other members of the six-man presidential council including Omar al-Aswad from Zintan – nominated in 2012 interior minister though he never assumed role – and Mohammed al-Ammari, a GNC dialogue member who represents the hardline Islamist Risala party.

Among the rest of the government was two women – Amal al-Haj, a Tripoli born women’s rights activist who put herself forward for premier in 2014 and Iman Ben Younis, a Benghazi-based women’s rights activist and lecturer on Public International Law at Africa University.

The head of the state council – the controversial advisory body in the draft peace deal whose membership is largely reserved for the GNC – would be headed up by Abderrahman al-Swehli. He is a Misratan GNC member and HoR boycotter, head of the Homeland Party and Libya Dawn hardliner.

Despite the mix, members of the boycotting GNC immediately denounced Leon’s announcement and several of its members refused to accept the positions they had been offered.

The first and most prominent refusal was al-Swehli, who said the announcement was premature and illegitimate as the GNC did not participate in the choosing process.

Al-Ammari also rejected his position, adding he would only accept if he was nominated by the GNC.

Other GNC members – not put up for jobs in the government – delivered stinging criticism.

“The goal of the UN mission is to increase segregation and rupture between the Libyan people,” GNC member Abdelwahab al-Qaid told pro-GNC TV network Nabaa on Saturday.

“These names proposed.. do not reflect the diverse composition of the Libyan people or political trends,” another GNC law-maker – Khaled al-Mashri – added.

However Misrata Municipal Council – based in the heartland of Dawn’s (and so the GNC’s) territory – backed the unity government, in a further sign of the divide in the west.

The council – which has brokered several peace initiatives with forces loyal  to recognized government –  has increasingly defied its natural ally Libya Dawn.

In a statement released Saturday it called for all sides to accept Leon’s proposed government, appealing to the GNC to lift their ban.

“We support the result of the Libyan political dialogue, and the names of the national unity government to rescue Libya from the division, fix the security problems, and reduce the difficulties facing the new state,” it read.

But there was also disagreement from those allied to the other side – the internationally-recognized government.

In Benghazi hundreds gathered against the inclusion of GNC members in the draft government and Leon  for taking the initiative to announce the body.

“This protest is a response to what happened yesterday in Skhirat (Morocco) in this corrupt government in every sense… this is a government that is unjust, illegal, illegitimate,” said protester Omar al-Amer.

“These are Leon’s people and they do not represent the Libyan people at all,” he added.

Several others pointed out that it was a little premature to announce the unity government without getting both sides to agree to the peace deal – which sets out the mandate and make up of the body.

The UN is now under pressure to get the text of the agreement signed ahead of 20 October,  when the mandate of the HoR will expire. That is dependent on the unity government being named first.

Facing criticism from both sides Leon and UNSMIL were quick to point out that – aside from the six presidential council members whose names will be written into the peace agreement text – the rest are just suggestions made by dialogue participants.

“Only the Presidential Council shall decide on whether or not to accept these suggestions,” they reiterated on Saturday.

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