Tunisian president says Libya's GNA has only 'temporary legitimacy'

France to disburse a $400 million loan.
Tuesday 23/06/2020
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Tunisian President Kais Saied give a joint press conference after their meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on June 22. (AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Tunisian President Kais Saied give a joint press conference after their meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on June 22. (AFP)

TUNIS-- On his first visit to France since he took office in October last year, Tunisian President Kais Saied said his country will not accept a divided Libya and described the legitimacy of the Government of National Accord (GNA) as "temporary."

At a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, Saied said: “The authorities in Tripoli are based on international legitimacy but this international legitimacy cannot continue. It is a temporary legitimacy and its place must come a new legitimate government, a legitimate government which is born of the will of the Libyan people. And I will say it from this podium, in Paris, that Tunis will not accept the division of Libya."

Giving a bleak picture of the current situation in Libya, the Tunisian president called for action and warned that the current status quo is untenable.

"This situation cannot continue. Tunisia is the country that suffers the most. France is suffering too, just as much as other European countries which have strategic interests in Tunisia," he said, calling for the drafting of a constitution in Libya to organise a democratic transitional period.

Saied's oblique reference to the 2015 Skhirat agreement, which had bestowed time-limited legitimacy on the GNA government, constituted a nuance change in Tunisia's stance on the conflict between the Turkish-backed government of Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) .

Based on the Skhirat agreement, the mandate of the Sarraj government should have expired on December 17, 2017, with a possible extension of only one year.

Saied did not address Ankara's intervention in Libya but Macron did not mince his words. He said  Turkey’s attitude in Libya is “unacceptable” and described Ankara's role as an obstacle to securing a ceasefire in the conflict-torn country.

He urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to end his country’s actions in Libya.

“I consider today that Turkey plays in Libya a dangerous game and is in breach of all its commitments,” he said.

Macron said he discussed the issue with US President Donald Trump in a phone call earlier on Monday.

The White House said the two leaders agreed on the urgent need for a ceasefire in Libya and for the rapid resumption of negotiations by the Libyan parties.

Trump and Macron reiterated that military escalation on all sides must stop immediately to prevent the Libyan conflict from becoming even more dangerous and intractable.

Tensions between France and Turkey escalated following a June 10 incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, which France considers a hostile act under NATO’s rules of engagement. Turkey has denied harassing the French frigate.

France accused Ankara of repeated violations of the UN arms embargo on conflict-torn Libya.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed.

The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and different foreign governments.

Bilateral issues

The Tunisian Ppresident is the first head of state to visit France since the lockdown of the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike relations between Paris and Algiers, Tunisian-French political and economic ties have been relatively smooth since Tunisia’s independence in 1956.

However, Monday’s meeting in Paris, followed by a dinner at the Elysee Palace, came less than two weeks after Seifeddine Makhlouf, the leader of the ultraconservative Dignity Coalition, introduced a resolution calling on France to apologise for crimes permitted during the colonial era and pay reparations.

France occupied Tunisia as a protectorate for 75 years, from 1881 until 1956. French soldiers only left Tunisian territory in 1963.

The resolution was eventually rejected by parliament as only 77 MPs out 217 voted in favour of the initiative, which needed 109 votes to pass. Despite its failure, the resolution put the spotlight on Tunisian-French relations, past and present.

Even after the introduction of the draft resolution and the heated debate that ensued in Tunisia, France on Monday seemed more than ever intent on maintaining  its strong ties with the North African country, with Macron’s announcement of the release 350 million euros (about $400 million) in loans to Tunisia to deal with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

"France continues to provide all its support to Tunisia, especially in the health sector through the training of health workers, the modernisation of infrastructures such as the construction of hospitals in Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid and the revival of economic activity," Macron said.

According to the French president, this loan is part of the commitments made by France to Tunisia to the tune of 1.7 billion euros ($1.93 billion) until 2022 to act in the health sector and youth employment.