Libya’s neighbours reaffirm commitment to mediation efforts

Sunday 11/06/2017
Common concern. Algerian Minister of North African Affairs Abdelkader Messahel (L), Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui (C) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry before a meeting in Tunis on the Libyan conflict, last February. (AFP)

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.