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Hopes raised for end of Libya conflict as smaller unity government announced

Libya’s presidency council announced a new smaller unity government on Monday that the international community hopes will bring the war-torn country one step closer to ending an 18-month conflict.

The 18-member Government of National Accord is considerable smaller than the initial cabinet which had 32 portfolios and was overwhelmingly rejected by the internationally-recognized House of Representatives last month for being too “unwieldy”.

The HoR gave the presidency council – headed up by businessman Faiez Serraj and tasked by the UN with naming a new cabinet as per a December peace deal – 10 days to produce a smaller body, and granted it an extension of the deadline last week.

Late Sunday –  just before the second deadline – Sarraj and his council announced a line up of 13 ministers and five ministers of state. Three women were among the names of the proposed members.

The HoR – which was adjourned until Tuesday – will have to vote on the body. If the unity government secures a simple majority, it is expected to begin operating from Tripoli immediately.

“The MPs want to know the programme of the government, and to discuss the CVs of the ministers,” MP Khalifa al-Daghari told AFP.

Daghari also said the MPs wanted Serraj to attend the next session.

He said Serraj “didn’t communicate with the parliament, and that’s why we are asking him to attend the next session. He can ask to postpone it, but we want to see him here in the parliament.”

The cabinet includes a mix of technocrats and politicians who served in senior positions under toppled leader Muammar Gaddafi, as well as those  who served in the post-revolution governments. The 18 ministers are equally divided from Libya’s three historical provinces, the east (Cyrenaica), the west (Tripolitania) and the south (Fezzan).

But two members of the presidency council – Deputy Minister Ali al-Gitrani and State Minister Omar al-Aswad – refused to sign off on the cabinet because they said certain “fundamental principles” were being neglected by their colleagues, including commitment to the Libyan army and its leadership.

Meanwhile chosen Finance Minister Fakhir Abufarna said he could not be part of the government for “personal reasons”, and proposed State Minister for Martyrs, Wounded & Missing Muhannad Yunis declined the offer arguing that there are “azlam” (derogatory term for ex-regime loyalists) in the unity government.

Aside from the HoR endorsement, the “joint” cabinet still has to win over the countries’ rival administration, which controls Tripoli.

The civil war was sparked by Islamist-leaning armed alliance Libya Dawn taking control of the capital, forcing the HoR to operate over 1500km in Tobruk.

Dawn resurrected the General National Congress as its legislature dividing the country in two. Hardliners within the GNC, which maintains it is the legitimate authority, have largely rejected UN-led peace efforts.

On Tuesday, instead of commenting on the GNA, Dawn officials pushed what it called the “Libyan-Libyan” alternate dialogue track initiated in early December in Tunisia. Then a group of lawmakers from both parliaments signed a joint declaration of principles in Tunis, which they said would pave the way for a full political agreement.

At the time UN-backed negotiations were ongoing in Morocco muddling the situation as the UN ploughed on with its negotiations refusing to embrace the alternate negotiation track.

To make matters worse, a week later the heads of the two rival legislatures met in Malta to reject the UN’s deal just a day before dozens of lawmakers travelled back to Morocco to sign it.

The HoR’s Agila Saleh and the GNC’s Nuri Abusahmain instead talked of the Libyan-Libyan initiative which laid out a plan to build a committee of 21 members to examine all the peace initiates and to select one to agree on.

However, Agila Saleh has since distanced himself from the rival peace initiative.

On Monday GNC-affiliated officials said that the committee was preparing to submit its final report to both parliaments. Despite the announcement of a full cabinet, the Libya-Libya dialogue plan outlined the need for early parliamentary elections and the appointment of qualified head of state and deputy ministers.

But the international community remained optimistic. UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler urged members of the House of Representatives (HoR) to stand behind the new administration.

“The journey to peace and unity of the Libyan people has finally started,” Kobler wrote on Twitter. “It is crucial now that HoR endorses the government of national unity. It’s a unique peace opportunity that must not be missed.”

The UN hopes the joint government will end the civil war and allow the Libyan army to focus its efforts on destroying the so-called Islamic State Group that has seized swathes of territory in the centre of the country.

Western governments have urged Libyan factions to back the unity government so that it can start taking on the threat and call in international support where needed.

Libya‘s North African neighbors, afraid of the country’s further descent into chaos, are planning an urgent meeting to coordinate border controls and tamp down the unrest they fear will spread.

A senior Algerian diplomat, Abdelkader Messahel, called Sunday for a meeting in Tunisia. He said Libya should install its newly proposed government quickly “and restore order to this country.”

Tunisia, the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings with a democracy, has suffered multiple attacks at the hands of Islamic State extremists trained in Libya, and officials there fear contagion from Libya‘s instability. Algeria also has fought ongoing battles with Islamic extremists, and both countries fear Western military intervention would exacerbate the problem.

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