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Haftar charges that Salamé is biased

Is the UN siding with one party of the Libyan civil conflict against another? Khalifa Haftar believes so, and many others appear to agree

Reda Shaaban , Thursday 30 May 2019
LNA fighters
This image grab taken from a video shows fighters of LNA reportedly advancing on a road south of the capital Tripoli (Photo: AFP)
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Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has charged that the UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salamé, is biased and working to partition the country.

In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, published Sunday, Haftar said: “The partition of Libya is perhaps what our adversaries want. That may also be what Ghassan Salame wants. But as long as I’m alive, it will never happen.”

He added that partition is impossible because the Libyan people are united and Libya will remain a single people. “The rest is chimeras.”

As for Salame, according to Haftar: “He has changed. From an honest and impartial mediator, he has become a partial mediator.”

Haftar accuses Salame of bias in favour of Fayez Al-Sarraj, prime minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which controls the capital with the aid of extremist militias led by commanders who have been internationally designated as terrorists.

Haftar’s charges express one view on an increasingly pressing concern for the Libyan people, many of whom have begun to question the value of continued UN efforts in Libya, the role of the UN special representative and the fate of the negotiating process against the backdrop of warfare between the LNA and extremist militias controlling Tripoli.

Al-Ahram Weekly put these questions to a number of Libyan politicians, political analysts, lawyers and other concerned professionals.

Mohamed Al-Abbani, a prominent politician, said: “The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and its head Ghassan Salame have been presumably charged by the UN Security Council to work within a political framework to rebuild the Libyan state. What the LNA is doing is an actual application of any international or regional effort that sincerely seeks to restore stability to Libya and eliminate terrorism from the country.”

Al-Abbani urged UNSMIL to support the LNA in its confrontation with the GNA. He faulted Salame for having elevated the GNA to the status of a “party” in the political process “despite the fact that it has fallen prey to the financial and administrative blackmail of terrorist militias and, therefore, is not qualified to be a genuine partner in efforts that seek political understandings, parliamentary and presidential elections, and the peaceful transition to a stable civil state through the ballot box.”

Raqi Al-Mismari, a professor of civil law, said: “UNSMIL’s role in Libya has grown so feeble due to the muddle and disarray of its political plan that it has come to an end.” An Arab coalition made up of the Arab quartet (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain) plus Jordan now play the most important role.

“This is the party that is truly trying to rescue Libya from the Turkish-Qatari alliance which controls Tripoli through its proxies there. The Libyan people have placed their hopes in that coalition which seeks to defuse tensions in all Arab countries and to help these countries recover economically, arrange their affairs politically and preserve their sovereignty in the face of the agenda of terrorism and extremism.”

Political analyst Al-Taher Al-Baour said: “Ghassan Salame is a failure. He has become an unacceptable mediator. To talk of dialogue while military hostilities are continuing and blood on both sides is flowing in rivers is a stroke of madness. Attempts to return to negotiations on the part of UNSMIL, and Salame specifically, are folly. None of the Libyan parties have any confidence left in the work of UNSMIL. Also, the National Conference which UNSMIL has been preparing has become a thing of the past.”

Political analyst Jamal Shalouf said: “When we turn back to the origins of how UNSMIL became a mediator between Libyans, we find that it was because of a resolution passed by the House of Representatives in 2014 to request UNSMIL to intervene to end the fighting that had erupted due to the Libya Dawn coup.

Regretfully, the UN has not proven to be a fair and impartial mediator. Moreover, it imposed a de facto government by virtue of an international recognition and it did not abide by the political agreement that was signed in Skhirat.

It believed in parts of the agreement, such as creating the GNA, and renounced its faith in all the rest, such as the security arrangements to expel the militias from the cities, the principle of unanimity in Presidency Council decisions and the need for the House of Representatives to approve the government.”

As for the solution, according to Shalouf, it will either have to be purely Libyan or monitored by other international organisations alongside the UN, such as the Arab League and the African Union.

“The special representative cannot be the ruler by decree who sets a date of a conference, conceals the names of the invitees, the criteria for choosing them and the agenda, and then says it’s the ‘only’ solution to the Libyan crisis.”

Former mayor of Tobruk, Faraj Yassin Al-Mabri said: “When the army wins and kicks the militias out of Libya, there will be no role for the UN or any other outside party apart from modest secondary roles since the Libyan people will be able to sit together with each other without fear of any militia reactions, especially in the west of the country.

There will be free and fair elections and a unified government because the Muslim Brotherhood and the militias, which were the reasons for the political deterioration in Libya to begin with, will not stand in the way.”

Al-Mabri believes that the Libyan people can hold elections and take the other measures necessary to establish a unified civilian government without need for an UN-sponsored National Conference.

Ahmed Ahmouma, member of the High Council of State (HCS), said: “Based on what things have come to and the bungling of the UN envoy to Libya, I don’t believe that the UN Envoy Ghassan Salame has a role to play or the ability to alter the current situation in Libya. With every action he undertakes, you find him shrouded in ambiguity and trying to side with one side to the exclusion of the other, which is why he has lost credibility among the parties to the conflict. The UN and its envoy to Libya have failed miserably to reach a solution to the crisis.”

While acknowledging the aid and support furnished by some UN agencies to segments of Libyan society, such as women and youth, Ahmouma felt that this support did not alter the nature of the social discord in Libya. “I am not accusing the international organisation of deliberately trying to aggravate the discord in Libya.

However, perhaps the source of the problem is the failure to understand the nature of the discord, the local culture and the Libyan demographic makeup. Although Libya is part of an Arab geographic continuum, it differs greatly from its Arab regional environment.

Given the UN’s many failures, the international organisation should have solicited help from regional international organisations, such as the African Union and the Arab League. I make particular mention of the African Union, here, because it has a long record of resolving many similar problems in Africa, in the course of which it has acquired great expertise.”

Khaled Al-Tarjuman, chairman of the National Action Group, said: “Over the years, the UN, through its mission in Libya, has made things worse, eventually leading us to the plot called the Skhirat agreement, a stillborn agreement that gave us the so-called Government of National Accord.”

As for the solution, Al-Tarjuman said: “Libyans have stopped relying on solutions coming from abroad, apart from the Arab and African roles and, at the heart of these, the Egyptian role which is active regionally, through its influence with Libya’s neighbours, Tunisia and Algeria, as well as with the African Union, which it currently chairs, in promoting support for the army and for Operation Dignity under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.”

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Haftar charges that Salamé is biased

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