Libya’s three neighbours join their efforts in mediation

Sunday 26/02/2017
Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui (R), his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry (C) and Algerian Minister of Maghreb Affairs, African Union and Arab League Abdelkader Messahel arrive to attend a meeting in Tunis. (AFP)

Tunis - Top North African diplo­mats are under increasing pressure to resolve Lib­ya’s crisis before powers from outside the region become more involved.

Foreign ministers from Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia met on February 19th and 20th — nine days ahead of previous plans — in Tunis to de­velop a road map for dealing with Libya’s problems. The document, known as the Tunis declaration, represents the three countries’ at­tempt to end the violence in Libya and rebuild a central government that includes leaders from various political and military factions.

“The Tunis declaration will be the platform to intensify and strength­en dialogue between the Libyan parties within the framework of a timetable to be agreed upon af­ter consultation with the involved Libyan parties and the United Na­tions,” the ministers said in a state­ment following the meeting.

The statement affirmed their “commitment to Libya’s sover­eignty and territorial integrity” and argued against intervention from other countries.

Sharing borders with Libya pre­sents critical security challenges for its North African neighbours, which have struggled to ward off violence and extremism spilling over from the conflict-ridden state. In Libya, rival factions, including extrem­ist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS), have tried to fill the power vacuum left when dictator Muam­mar Qaddafi was ousted in 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement supported by Turkey and Qatar, has also become a force in Libya. The Muslim Broth­erhood has been designated a ter­rorist organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

US President Donald Trump’s election heightened the North Afri­can countries’ concerns about out­side intervention in Libya. While they have supported international efforts to unite rival groups in Lib­ya, they said they fear foreign mili­tary intervention would exacerbate the conflict, resulting in an increase in migration problems and spill-over violence.

Foreign involvement in Libya has been limited in scope and duration and efforts by the European Union and the United States have focused on fighting ISIS in Sirte and contain­ing the flow of migrants, who con­tinue to surge into Europe via the Mediterranean.

In December, the United States assisted militias aligned with the UN-backed government in Tripoli with an air campaign to uproot ISIS fighters from their Sirte stronghold. Britain gave logistical and intelli­gence support in the mission and Italy provided medical assistance. More than 1,000 ISIS fighters were reportedly killed and many more scattered across Libya.

Diplomats in the Maghreb said mediators are concerned that Trump might go along with Russia providing military support to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a fiery anti- Islamist commander, who leads the Libyan Army in eastern Libya.

North African officials said they are concerned that Trump could lift arms sanctions on Libya, resulting in more weapons for Haftar’s fight­ers. Trump has taken a different tone than his predecessor, Barack Obama, saying radical Islam is one of the greatest threats to US nation­al security.

With these foreign policy con­cerns as the backdrop, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt hope to move towards a concrete resolution for Libya and their Foreign ministers plan to act as mediators between the many competing factions in Libya and abroad.

“There is a general fatigue among the factions and players of the Liby­an conflict. Any well-balanced me­diation from Arab neighbours can make a difference and succeed,” said Darem al-Bassam, a UN adviser on Libya.

Any success by the three coun­tries would likely come out once they announce the agenda for an upcoming summit, whose dates have not been announced, in Al­giers that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi are ex­pected to attend.

Whatever happens at the sum­mit, getting rival forces to come together in Libya will remain a challenge. The UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli is vying for control with a ri­val government in Tobruk and the Libyan Army, led by Haftar. Haftar, who has gained a reputation as an anti-jihadist fighter, has the sup­port of Russia and hopes to win fa­vour with Trump.