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UN urges Libyan parties to talk peace despite last-minute glitches

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Libyan armed men climb on top of a tank outside the Central Bank, near Benghazi port, Reuters/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Files

The UN was fighting to help clinch a deal to end the crisis in Libya this week. Envoy Bernardino Leon says further meetings will discuss forming a national unity government in coming days. But the peace process is on shaky ground after officials from the House of Representatives, the Tobruk-based authorities, rejected the UN accord.


After almost a year of negotiations in Geneva and in Morocco, Leon put forward on 9 October a list of names of people who could sit on a presidential council. Both parties – the House of Representatives (HOR) in Tobruk and the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli – have balked at the suggestions.

However some politicians from distanced themselves from the HOR's announcement, arguing that Tobruk’s refusal had never been voted on and was therefore invalid.

The UN has said that the final document negotiated must be adopted as is. There is speculation however that the two parties could meet to discuss minor amendments or the appointment of members on the future presidential council.

“We are at the final hurdle,” said analyst Anas El Gomati, director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, adding that the rejection by the HOR could be a last-ditch effort by Tobruk to obtain concessions.

Some observers are cautiously optimistic.

“I am hopeful that this is going to happen,” British Ambassador Peter Millett said in a phone interview. “The process has to continue because the needs of the Libyan people are so urgent.”

Analyst el Gomati struck a similarly optimistic note: “It doesn’t sit well neither with the GNC nor the HOR that the extremist voices that have rejected this [UN deal] dictate the pace of war and peace in the country.”

Others believe the road ahead remains perilous, mainly because the political future of the politicians who are negotiating under UN auspices in Morocco is at stake, believes Dr Fatima Hamroush, a Libyan former health minister.

“Everybody wants to be in power because all of them have committed crimes,” she said in a phone interview from Dublin. “They are going to be prosecuted if they are not. They’re protecting their backs.”

UN talks have not formally addressed the future of high-ranking officials, including army chief General Khalifa Heftar, the former Kadhafi-era officer who launched Operation Dignity, a coalition of armed groups that eventually sided with Tobruk and took on the pro-Tripoli Libya Dawn.

“That will be up to the national unity government to decide,” explained analyst Gomati, who believes Heftar and other armed group leaders will not fare well in the new Government of National Accord.

“Operation Dignity was led by extremist and hard-line voices within the HOR. The same goes for the GNC. Their Libya Dawn was also led by extremist and hard-line voices. It will become almost impossible to conduct operations for them with the same kinds of names and the same kind of legal remit that allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do.”

In a bid to encourage the Libyan parties to agree, the European Union is considering helping Libya disarm its militias when a government of national unity is eventually formed, according to an EU document obtained by Reuters news agency. This will be debated at the next regular EU foreign affairs meeting scheduled for mid-November.

Six options are reportedly envisaged to bolster security. These include actions "regardless of the political situation" in Libya.

“That is something that is being used as a stick to [pressure] some people to come around the table and sign the agreement,” said Gomati. “I don’t believe that this is something that they are actually considering or that they have an actual plan for something that they can enact within weeks or months.”

Western diplomats recognise that it would be easier to deal with a new government of national unity.

“Libyans need one government of national accord who can seek the assistance of the international community to help tackle these terrible needs at the moment,” said British Ambassador Peter Millett.

There are concerns that the new legal vacuum in Libya will make a political solution more difficult to find.

Both governments are now “illegal,” experts warn. Under the current constitution the House of Representatives could not extend its mandate past 20 October without holding a referendum. The General National Congress’s mandate expired in 2014.

“This leaves the international community in a difficult position – whether to continue to recognise the House of Representatives or to have a vacuum in Libya with no democratically elected government to deal with,” remarked Mohamed Eljarh, a Tobruk-based Rafic Hariri Centre for the Middle East fellow.

Follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter @miko75011