Libyan dialogue starts in Geneva

Kamel Abdallah , Wednesday 5 Feb 2020

The first meeting of a commission including representatives of the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army took place this week, paving the way to the convening of the Libyan Political Forum

Libyan protesters
In this May 3, 2019 file photo, Libyans hold a demonstration against military operations by forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, Libya. Two Libyan militia commanders and a Syrian war monitor group say Turkey is deploying Syrian extremists to fight in Libya's civil war. These extremists are affiliated with groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State. They're fighting as mercenaries on behalf of the United Nations-supported government in Libya. (Photo:AP)

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has announced that the 5+5 military/security commission made up of five senior officers from the Tripoli-based Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) and five senior officers representing the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) held their first meeting in the Palace of Nations in Geneva on Monday.

Moderated by UN special representative and head of UNSMIL Ghassan Salamé, the Joint Military Commission (JMC) had been scheduled to convene on 28 January but had to be postponed because the LNA command was late in designating its five members.

These are Al-Madani Al-Fakhri, Faraj Al-Sousaa, Atiya Al-Sharif, Abdel-Karim Hadiya and Abdel-Hadi Al-Falah. Representing the GNA are Al-Fitori Gharibel, Ahmed Abu Shahma, Mukhtar Al-Naqasa, Mahmoud Bin Saeed and Abdel-Rahman Mohamed Al-Jatlawi.

In his briefing to the UN Security Council on 30 January, Salamé said that “it is imperative that the JMC meet under UN auspices to transform the truce, or whatever’s left of it, into a ceasefire and to discuss the modalities for a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, which I know is of great interest to this council.”

He was referring to the truce jointly brokered and announced by Russia and Turkey on 12 January, although LNA commander Khalifa Haftar refused to sign a draft ceasefire agreement in talks sponsored by Moscow the following day.

“The commission will also seek to reach an agreement on long-term security arrangements, directly addressing grievances expressed by both sides. Your collective support for and engagement with this process is vital. Consolidating the truce is critical for the success of our simultaneous and parallel efforts to start the Libyan Political Forum enabling the parties to discuss transitional institutional arrangements,” Salamé said.

On 10 January, Salamé had asked the presidents of the Tripoli-based Libyan High Council of State (HCS) and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) to select 13 delegates each to the forum, on the basis of the 13 electoral districts on each side.

He offered UNSMIL’s support “to ensure that the process was inclusive, transparent, fair and democratic.” However, as he told the UN Security Council, the selection process had not been completed by the time of his 30 January briefing.

“Deep political divisions within the House of Representatives have been impeding the selection process of its delegates to the Libyan Political Forum,” he explained, after noting that the HCS had completed its selection of its 13 delegates. He then reported that three of the 13 HoR districts had elected their delegates for the political talks, but the office of the speaker of the House of Representatives denied this.

Turning to the economic track, Salamé told the Security Council that Cairo would be hosting the second economic meeting on 9 February bringing together Libyan economic experts, representatives of branches of the Libyan Central Bank, the National Oil Corporation (NOC), the Libyan Investment Organisation, the Central Auditing Bureau and the Libya Post, Telecommunication and Information Technology Corporation.

The main purpose of the meeting is to discuss ways to unify Libya’s sovereign economic organisations and draw up terms of reference for the Libyan Expert Economic Commission, the members of which will be selected as the economic track continues.

Urging progress on this front, Salamé warned that “the economy in Libya is becoming increasingly unstable due to the conflict. Institutional fragmentation and the inability to enact a unified economic policy are exacerbating existing challenges and creating new ones.” He was especially alarmed by the effects of the interruption in oil exports following the NOC’s declaration of force majeure on oil exports from ports in eastern Libya.

“The blockade results in losses of approximately $55 million per day in national revenue; as of today, the cumulative lost revenue as a result of the blockade has reached over $622 million,” he said, adding that “Libya’s national debt has now surpassed 100 billion dinars and is spiking upwards.”

On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced that the foreign ministers of the participants at the 19 January Berlin Summit on Libya would meet again in Munich in mid-March in the framework of the follow-up process. He said that his country would work with the UN Security Council to craft a resolution that would make it clear that countries that continue to violate the UN weapons embargo to Libya will “have to expect consequences.”

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether the Security Council will adopt a UK-sponsored ceasefire resolution, backed by Germany. The draft resolution also calls for the withdrawal of the foreign fighters that Turkey and the UAE have been accused of sending into Libya.

The International Follow-Up Committee to the Berlin Conference will get underway in the coming weeks with the formation of four working groups focused on the political, military, economic and international humanitarian law/human rights tracks, the UNSMIL head told the Security Council in his briefing.

“These mechanisms will ensure that the hard work ahead of Berlin continues and that those who obstruct the process, whether inside or outside Libya, can be held to account,” he said.

During a meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied on 23 January, Maas invited Tunisia to attend the launch of the International Follow-Up Committee to the Berlin Conference. On his personal Twitter account, he stressed that the perspectives of Tunisia and other Libyan neighbours were extremely important to further steps. 

A relatively low level of violence has persisted on the ground in Libya since the 12 January truce brokered by Russia and Turkey. However, heavy weapons are still being used by both sides in the intermittent skirmishes on the southern outskirts of Tripoli and in the western areas of Sirte.

UN officials continue to complain of ongoing violations of the Libyan arms embargo on the part of countries that had taken part in the Berlin Summit. Nevertheless, reductions in the flows of weapons and foreign mercenaries into Libya since the summit appear to have hampered, for the time being at least, the ability of the warring parties to sustain prolonged rounds of intensive combat.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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