Libya’s neighbours reaffirm commitment to mediation efforts
Tunis - Despite sharp divisions between Algeria and Egypt, foreign ministers from Libya’s three North African neighbours displayed diplomatic unity following a meeting in Algiers, affirming the “significance of the mechanism of Libya’s neighbours and their approach to resolving the Libyan crisis.”
There was concern that the diplomatic spat between Qatar and Arab powers would derail the North African countries’ mediation efforts but the ministers pledged to prioritise “the preservation of territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity of Libya.”
The Gulf crisis has further polarised Libya, with leading factions in the east siding with Saudi Arabia and Egypt and main rivals in Tripoli following Algeria’s neutral stance in the dispute.
Diplomats from Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia said they were committed to a political solution in Libya as “the only way to resolve the crisis is through inclusive dialogue [and] the rejection of interference and military options,” said a statement released by Algerian state media after the June 5-6 meetings.
“After they praised the efforts of Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia in reconciling the viewpoints among Libyan parties and bringing all actors towards expanding [their informal alliance], the ministers of the three countries reiterated their full commitment to supporting Libya and accompanying it in the process of achieving a political settlement,” the statement said.
Earlier this year, the three countries suggested they were under pressure to mediate a solution to the Libyan conflict to avoid “foreign military intervention.”
Algiers, Cairo and Tunis pledged to urge their allies and contacts in Libya to reach a political settlement. Their efforts included a February meeting of the three foreign ministers in Tunis, during which they adopted what has become known as the Tunis Declaration.
The Tunis Declaration was not mentioned in the most recent statement but the latest meeting reportedly represented more of a “diplomatic entente” between Algeria and Egypt than three-state-mediation.
Algeria, which has had concerns about Cairo’s interference in Libya since the 1970s, is said to have deployed intelligence resources inside Libya and built up military forces across the border.
Egyptian Ambassador to Algeria Omar Abu Eich was quoted by Algerian newspapers ahead of the ministerial meeting as saying that “Egypt`s military intervention will remain within the eastern parts of Libya, far away from the borders with Algeria.”
Cairo has yet to announce an end to its air strikes on Islamists’ camps in eastern Libya. That campaign began May 26 in retaliation for the massacre of 29 Christian Copts inside Egypt.
Security experts said the strikes would help Libyan forces loyal to eastern-based Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is seeking to expand his power across the country and ultimately control the capital Tripoli.
Haftar consolidated control of the strategic Jufra military base on June 3 after rival factions pulled out. Jufra is 500km south-west of Benghazi and about the same distance south-east of Tripoli.
Haftar met with the head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) early in May in Abu Dhabi and pledged to calm tensions in southern Libya and renew hopes of a political deal that could end the violence in the country.
Two weeks after the breakthrough meeting, however, violence escalated in Jufra and Sabha after dozens of fighters loyal to Haftar were killed by Islamists in a raid on Brak El-Shati Airbase near Sabha.
A force operating under Libya’s UN-brokered government, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, secured Tripoli’s main airport, which has been closed since it was damaged in fighting in 2014. It was under the control of a rival faction until June 1.
Reacting to the violence in Libya, the foreign ministers of Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt called on all of Libya’s factions to “embrace dialogue, reject foreign meddling and avoid violence.”
Haftar and his allies lashed out at Qatar for backing Islamists in Libya only a few days before the eruption of the Gulf crisis, while Libya’s eastern government aligned with Haftar and based in the city of Tobruk announced it had severed ties with Qatar.
“In doing so, the government in Tobruk staged a coup d’état against Fayez al-Sarraj’s government and obviously took the risk of widening the fracture between east and west,” said Sadek Sahraoui, an Algerian analyst.