Cautious optimism among Libya’s neighbours after Paris meetings

The Paris declaration contains an agreement among Libya’s rivals on regulations by September to prepare for elections December 10.
Sunday 03/06/2018
Priority issue. French President Emmanuel Macron  (R) and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi after an international conference on Libya in Paris, on  May 29.(AP)
Priority issue. French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi after an international conference on Libya in Paris, on May 29.(AP)

CAIRO - Libya’s neighbouring countries welcomed the declaration by key political players vowing to have presidential and parliamentary elections in December.

The declaration, agreed to at a meeting in Paris, called for the unity of Libya’s security and military agencies and administrative institutions. It contains an agreement among Libya’s rivals on regulations by September to prepare for elections December 10, either by drafting a new election law or tailoring articles on elections in the Libyan Constitution.

The meeting, which was sponsored by French President Emmanuel Macron, brought Libya’s main political figures: Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of Libya’s internationally recognised government; Khalid al-Mishri, the head of the Tripoli-based State Council; Khalifa Haftar, the commander of eastern Libya’s army; and Ageela Saleh, speaker of the eastern Libya House of Representatives.

Sarraj met with US Charge d’Affaires Stephanie Williams and commander of US forces in Africa US Marines General Thomas Waldhauser two days after the Paris meeting with Libya’s UN-backed government called for “further cooperation” with the United States and Williams said Washington backed elections “as soon as possible.”

Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, in attendance in Paris, said he was positive about the meeting’s outcomes.

“The agreement reached in the meetings will open the door for holding parliamentary and presidential elections in Libya,” Ouyahia said. “Algeria looks with a lot of comfort as it sees Libya’s main players being represented in the talks.”

Libya has turned into a major problem for neighbouring countries since it fell into chaos following the downfall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011.

Libya technically split into two functioning states, one in the east and the other in the west, each of which has its own institutions; police, army and people. Rifts among the Libyans turned the country into fertile ground for terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS), to take root and grow. Libya also became a major transit point for migrants, either escaping the war in Syria or poverty and unrest in Africa.

Apart from sending hundreds of thousands of refugees to Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is a security menace to its neighbours with Qaddafi’s arms stockpiles falling into the hands of terrorists and the numerous militias active.

Ouyahia said Algeria’s 1,000km border with Libya was a major source of concern.

“This brings us security threats from Libya and also threatens regional security,” Ouyahia told Algerian state television. “This is why we consider the Paris meetings to be a fruitful contribution to peace-making efforts in Libya.”

However, scepticism is high on whether the Libyans will implement the declaration. It commits Libyan rivals to abiding by the results of the December elections. It calls for the unification of the Central Bank of Libya, the abolition of parallel state institutions and backing efforts made by the United Nations to settle the conflict in the country.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the declaration proved Egypt’s view on the importance of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya.

“It backs efforts made by the United Nations for having the elections in Libya,” Shoukry said at a news conference in Cairo. “We have hopes that these efforts will bear fruit.”

Egypt has especially been trying to help Libya’s military commanders unify operations to secure Libyan territory

The Paris declaration calls for building professional and accountable security and military institutions and backing talks sponsored by Egypt on this issue.

Egypt, which has a 1,100km border with Libya, has complained about the effect that the situation in Libya has on its national security, amid concerns that Libya is a major transit point for arms and militants.

Last October, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the French news channel France 24 that the Egyptian Air Force had destroyed 1,200 trucks carrying arms and explosives seeking to infiltrate Egypt in the previous two-and-a-half years.

Despite the efforts, Egyptian security analysts said a large proportion of the arms and explosives in the hands of terrorists in Egypt originate in Libya. Egypt has been fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups since 2011, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula and the Western Desert that borders Libya.

“Egypt is very concerned about what is happening in Libya and this is why it sticks to any effort that seeks to bring stability to this country,” said security analyst Khalid Okasha.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi expressed hope that the Paris meetings would push peace-making forward in Libya. “A settlement to the conflict in Libya will be lasting and credible only through the United Nations,” Caid Essebsi said during the Paris meetings. “Libya’s stability is an absolute priority for Tunisia and the region.”