Cairo hosts another international meeting on Libya, but no end in sight for turmoil

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 18 Jun 2011

The Arab League and international partners meet on Saturday to discuss Libya, while the end of NATO's mandate looms and Gaddafi insists that he is staying

Libyan revolution
A rebel fighter stands atop a tank that belonged to forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi following the liberation of the village of Ain Rumaiya in the city of Zintan (Photo: Reuters)

International and regional organisations are meeting this afternoon at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo to examine the developments in Libya and try to formulate a political package that could end months of turmoil since the beginning of demonstrations-turned-militant –action against the regime of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

The Arab League, the African Union, the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the UN will all be present at the meeting.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, African Union Chair Jean Ping and the High Representative of the EU Catherine Ashton will also be present at the meeting. The OIC and UN will be represented at a high-official level.

Today's meeting is a follow-up to similar encounters that have been hosted by the Arab League in what is known as the Cairo Group. It comes a week after the Libya Contact Group meeting in Abu Dhabi.

The objective of the Cairo meeting today, according to Arab League senior official Hesham Youssef, is to formulate a political package acceptable by all Libyan parties to end the current state of turmoil. The package, he added, should secure a cease-fire, coupled with a peaceful transition of power.  

The Cairo Group meeting will also aim to examine the details of a transitional phase should the political package be secured and passed.

"But it is complicated because even if you could come up with a political deal accepted by all parties, then you have to think of who would take this package to Gaddafi and try to convince him to accept it," Youssef said, Friday evening.

"The trouble is that Gaddafi is in denial and during his recent visit to Libya [South Africa President Jacob] Zuma [who has good relations with Gaddafi] got nothing out of him," said John Jenkins, the UK envoy to Benghazi.

Speaking in Cairo on Wednesday during a visit for consultations with the Arab League and Egypt on developments in Libya, Jenkins said "It is difficult to say how much time it would take before Gaddafi goes or before there is a settlement, but the situation in Libya is not in a stalemate," he argued.

According to the Libyan diplomat there are several reasons for why things are taking so long in Libya, despite the NATO operations and the support that is being afforded to the anti-Gaddafi rebels.

The first reason, Jenkins said, is that rebel operations are not aggressive enough, in part because the rebels don’t want to antagonise Libyan tribes that still support Gaddafi, and with which they would have to co-rule the country post-Gaddafi.

A second reason, said the British diplomat, is that NATO forces are only acting to protect civilians from attacks by the Gaddafi forces. Targeting Gaddafi is not part of the mandate for action.

There is also, according to Jenkins, the fact that Tripoli is all but cut off from the rest of the country, which is making it difficult for rebel forces in the Libyan capital to act.

And Gaddafi for his part is resorting to a brutal force, with substantial rebel losses.

"Revolutionary forces are not moving forward fast, but they are making some progress," Jenkins said. He added that the mandate of NATO expires September, but declined to speculate on whether or not the conflict could be ended by then.

"Gaddafi says he is going to stay and fight until he dies as a martyr, as he likes to put it," commented Jenkins, who has been based in Benghazi for over a month.

Meanwhile, the British envoy excluded the possibility of the intervention of NATO ground troops in Libya, or that Libya would turn into another Iraq. "Libya will not be Iraq," he said.

Jenkins also excluded the partition of Libya. "I don’t think that the division of Libya is possible, even if people spoke about it in the beginning for a while," he said. He added that there is no indication that Libyans want to divide their country. "This could be a recipe for civil war," he stated.

For Youssef, who met with Jenkins Wednesday, the Arab League, which supported the imposition of a no-fly zone through a UN Security Council resolution, to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by Gaddafi, will firmly oppose any move to undermine Libyan territorial unity or sovereignty.

"What we are working to get is a solution by which we could see a transition of power in Libya," Youssef insisted.

This process, Jenkins argued, would not be easy because Libya will be turning from "a no state under Gaddafi to a state". He added that the Transitional National Council in rebel stronghold Benghazi is already working on formulating the basis of state building in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

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