Ghassan Salame, UN envoy to Libya, resigns

Until a replacement is found, his deputy, Stephanie Williams, is expected to head the UN mission.
Monday 02/03/2020
UN Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame holds a news briefing after a meeting of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6. (Reuters)
Fourth to try. UN Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame holds a news briefing after a meeting of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6. (Reuters)

Ghassan Salamé, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to the country, has resigned, Monday.

In a tweet, he said that his health could not stand up to the stress of trying to achieve a solution to Libya’s conflict and that he had offered his resignation to the Secretary-General as a result.

The decision follows the failure of the three-track process spawned by the Berlin Conference of 19 January both to create a permanent ceasefire in the conflict around Tripoli between the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Islamist forces supporting the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord led by Fayez Sarraj and to find common ground between the parties to conflict.

Despite Salamé’s constant spin following the Berlin Conference that UNMIL’s efforts were moving Libya “in the right direction”, it has been clear that it was not the case. The 5+5 military track negotiations, bringing together top military commanders from both the LNA and the GNA to work out the basis for a ceasefire, met twice in Geneva last month but failed to achieve any significant agreement.

 

The second round almost did not happen.

 

Following the LNA’s attack on Tripoli harbour on 18 February, Sarraj initially announced that he was pulling the GNA’s negotiators out.

 

Intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations and foreign political pressure changed his mind, but the talks were still sterile.

 

Meanwhile UNSMIL’s economic track talks in Cairo on 9-10 February did little more than talk about reforms that have been regularly discussed since the 2011 toppling of the Gadhafi regime but never implemented.

 

As for the political track discussions, which were due to start on 26 February, again in Geneva, they hardly got off the ground after the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based State Council decided to boycott the talks.

 

The failure of the political discussions seems to have been the final straw for Salamé. Over the past year, there were repeated rumours of him having health issues and contemplating resignation as a result. According to experts, Sqalamé was disappointed by the inability of Libyan rivals to find common ground in Geneva and by his own failure to stop foreign interventions which reached unprecedented proportions in recent months. The most brazen attitude was that of Ankara which repeatedly declared its intent to continue supplying the GNA with pro-Turkish fighters from Syria and with military equipment.  Lack of progress earned Salamé a lot of criticism from all quarters although people close to him felt he had tried his best to handle a task that proved impossible at the end.

Till now, however, it was thought he would still soldier on.

He now becomes the fourth UN special envoy to Libya whose efforts to bring peace to the country have ended in failure.

Given the record, it may be difficult to quickly find a replacement. As one senior official in Tripoli suggested to The Arab Weekly, the task is at present almost impossible to achieve.

Until a replacement is found, his deputy, Stephanie Williams, is expected to head the UN mission. She may even be asked to take over the job.

However, until a new head is found, all UN peace efforts will be on hold.

Meanwhile, despite the official truce between the LNA and GNA, in reality the battle for the city has fully reignited, with continuous shelling by both sides.