Conflict in Libya: Is there a new hope?

October 15, 2020 9:18 AM

But the fact that the talks are going on and the two sides are hoping to arrive at an acceptable format with the support of all major stakeholders, this time around the scenario presents a more optimistic picture.

EU has agreed to effectively monitor the ceasefire in collaboration with UNSMIL. (Image: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

By Amb Anil Trigunayat

On October 10, the UNSMIL announced that the direct intra-Libyan dialogue will be resumed between the competing parties comprising mainly the leadership of the East and West of Libya that has been indulging in a turf war with the help of their foreign benefactors and masters and scores of militias. The Talks will be based on the UNSC Resolution 2520 (2020) which endorsed the Berlin Conference and Peace talks held on January 19 this year. This was followed by discussions in Switzerland in September and the two sides agreed to work for a preparatory phase that establishes a comprehensive solution, and to create conditions for holding parliamentary and presidential elections within dates not exceeding eighteen months, on the basis of an agreed constitution. Reference to 2015, Skhirat Agreement is relevant in this regard.

There has been no dearth of dialogues or efforts for talks between the warring sides by many interlocutors in the last 6-7 years often without sincerity. But the discredit should also be given to the same stakeholders for the failure of the attempts or talks as they were based on who can extract more for their surrogates. No major power regional or external was interested to see their direct or indirect influence in the murky Libyan politico-militia landscape. An urgency arose when Turkey decided to cast its lot behind the Tripoli and internationally recognised government. Of course, the word internationally recognised government has been discounted in this context by General Haftar and Tobruk based parliament and government which derive their own legitimacy in Eastern Libya. Both may have physical control over territories but legitimacy in the public eye for either is a moot point. Anyways it has been clear that with major powers involved on opposing sides the military victory for either is unlikely and status quo is unpalatable. Hence dialogue is the only option.

The announcement made by Acting Special Envoy and UNSMIL head Stephanie Williams,(whom I knew from days in Jordan as she was the American Deputy Chief of Mission and a brave and intelligent diplomat ) after the Moroccan initiative. The delegations of Tobruk Parliament and the Libyan National High council of State (HCS) met twice since September 6 at Bouznika in Morocco to agree on joint criteria and mechanisms for the appointment and sharing of sovereign positions. They also discussed working procedure and implementational modalities for the agreement reached. Simultaneously the 2nd Berlin conference was held virtually to effect a permanent ceasefire. Head of the Government of National Accord and Presidential Council Fayez Al Serraj expressed his sincere desire to hand over his charge to the next executive authority by the end of October complicated the issue a bit more. Immediately thereafter Serraj went to meet his supporter President Erdogan who did not appear too pleased with his decision. Turkish Presidential Spokesman Kalin confirmed that the GNA high council could be restructured and that Turkey’s support was not incumbent on any personality or political figure. Serraj’s intended resignation could be due to complex situation and to yield the way for mutually agreed stabilisation strategy. Even his nemesis General Haftar, who is supported by Egypt, UAE, France and Russia, was not too happy when the Tobruk parliamentary head AquilaSaleh agreed to proceed with the negotiations.

According to Williams, the hybrid formula is being adopted to start various virtual and face to face discussions under the aegis of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) starting October 26. The talks will be held in Tunisia. Libya’s oil has always been a filed of contestation and during the past decade has seen umpteen shutdowns and declaration of force majeure by various factions. Distribution of oil revenue and the role of NOC (National Oil Corporation) and Central Bank have been at the core of it apart from disruptions by brigands and unbridled militias. As a result of ongoing efforts, the NOC has lifted force majeure on its biggest oil facilities that had been imposed for nearly 208 days reportedly by Haftar militias causing a loss of over $ 8bn. Sharara Oil field was producing nearly 300000 bpd before the blockade. UNSMIL in a statement welcomed the resumption due to improved security situation underscoring that“Ensuring the unimpeded exploitation of Libya’s oil resources and effective management of its oil revenues is a shared national interest. This decision reflects the constructive atmosphere created in the lead-up to the reconvening by UNSMIL intra-Libyan military and political talks”.

German Chancellor who has been working hard to bring the rival sides together appreciated the developments and a foreign ministry statement hoped that “ the plan paves the way for a ceasefire, agreement on a new united government and parliamentary and presidential elections. It called on all active political actors in Libya to constructively support this process and for their foreign backers to positively influence the warring parties.” UNSMIL expects that the mechanism for selecting participants in the forum will be from the various main components of the Libyan people, adding that it will conduct direct talks between the “5 + 5” joint military committee in Geneva in Switzerland on October 19. In the meantime, it worked to facilitate consultations between the delegations of the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the Supreme Council of State on constitutional issues in Cairo during 11-13 October, enabling major leadership talks in November in Tunis. Even as the ink is not dry the difference of interpretation began to emerge. Although UNSMIL/UN urged a complete stand-down of all military manoeuvres and reinforcements to enable an agreement on a lasting ceasefire, including a demilitarized zone in central Libya, as well as to create the space for constructive political discussions, the Egyptians said that the UNSMIL read out of the Hurghada talks between the military delegations was not accurate as demilitarisation was not agreed to.

But the fact that the talks are going on and the two sides are hoping to arrive at an acceptable format with the support of all major stakeholders, this time around the scenario presents a more optimistic picture. But one needs to keep the fingers crossed as the geopolitical and geo-economic ambitions of the outsiders and political aspiration and power hunger of the key domestic Libyan actors could easily derail the process. EU has agreed to effectively monitor the ceasefire in collaboration with UNSMIL. For the sake of ordinary Libyans let us hope for a functional and verifiable roadmap to political stability and economic development even as a whole decade has been lost.

(The author is former Indian Ambassador to Libya, Jordan and Malta. Views expressed are personal.)

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