UN envoy to Libya pessimistic as LNA promises quick takeover

The willingness of Turkey and others to pour arms into Libya was one of the main reasons for Salame’s conclusion that the country may be heading for a protracted civil war.
Sunday 26/05/2019
Unmitigated pessimism. UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame attends a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York, May 21. (Reuters)
Unmitigated pessimism. UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame attends a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York, May 21. (Reuters)

UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame’s recent UN Security Council briefing on the situation in the country was marked by almost unmitigated pessimism, a sharp contrast to previous sessions.

Because of the offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Libya was, Salame said, on the brink of civil war that could be long and bloody and may result in partition.

The level of mistrust between the Libyan factions was such that it “will take years to mend and that’s only if the war is ended now,” he said.

Salame warned that the conflict was enabling the Islamic State, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh, to grow in southern Libya because of the power vacuum there.

“In the south of Libya, the black flags of Daesh are appearing,” he said. Since the LNA had pulled north towards Tripoli, “Libyan forces that had, in the past, courageously defended their country against these terrorist groups are now busy fighting each other.”

The consequences of a Libyan descent into full-scale civil war would affect its neighbours and other Mediterranean countries, he predicted.

In a speech May 23, the day after he briefed the Security Council, at the International Peace Institute in New York, Salame was even blunter, saying that Libya was “committing suicide.”

The country was rich, he pointed out: “The truth is that Libya can pay for its own suicide.”

Almost all foreign governments that have involved themselves in the Libyan crisis concur that there can be no military solution and that there must be an immediate ceasefire and a return to the political process led by the United Nations.

The message was given to the head of the UN-backed Presidential Council Fayez al-Sarraj by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome, by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, by British Prime Minister Theresa May in London and by the European Union in Brussels as he tried to rally European support.

Haftar was told the same thing when he met with Conte on May 16 and Macron on May 22.

There was similar pessimism as Salame’s in a farewell statement May 23 from US Ambassador to Libya Peter Bodde, who declared himself “saddened by the deepening divide that is undermining prospects of a better future for all Libyans.” He warned that “military posturing only risks propelling Libya back towards chaos.”

Haftar and Sarraj have decisively rejected the appeals for a ceasefire and each other.

Sarraj told Macron that there would be no ceasefire until the LNA withdrew to its pre-April 4 positions, a demand he repeated to ambassadors to Libya at a meeting May 22 in Tunis, and that he would no longer negotiate with Haftar or President of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh. Sarraj said he no longer considered that they represented the east of the country.

Haftar, after speaking with Conte and Macron, was equally dismissive, saying in Paris that the militias that “infested” the Government of National Accord (GNA) had to be removed.

During his meeting with Macron, Haftar ruled out talks with Sarraj, making it clear, that as far as he was concerned, Sarraj was incapable of delivering a truce. That was a reference to determinations that several forces fighting the LNA in Tripoli do not answer to Sarraj. Even if Sarraj agreed to a ceasefire, such group would almost certainly continue to shell LNA positions.

The rejections by Sarraj and Haftar of the ceasefire call indicated the impotence of the main European players in Libya and that both Haftar and Sarraj think they can defeat the other.

LNA supporters argue that Tripolitan views will change, that those against Haftar will swing behind him and the LNA once the capital is taken.

The LNA supporters confidently predicted that would happen before the end of Ramadan. “It will be a wonderful Eid in Tripoli,” a top LNA official suggested. “There will be no Wifaq (the GNA) and no Ikhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood).”

Sources close to the LNA were predicting a final push towards central Tripoli, enabling the LNA to take the Abu Salim and Hadba districts, on the southern side of the cross-city highway, and dominate the rest of the city.

The arrival May 18 of weapons and vehicles from Turkey for GNA forces in violation of UN sanctions is thought to be the tip of the iceberg. Much more military gear and weapons are expected, including drones for both forces.

The willingness of Turkey and others to pour arms into Libya was one of the main reasons for Salame’s conclusion that the country may be heading for a protracted civil war.

However, it was not just those doing the supplying that he blames. In his briefing, he pointed to the international community — and, by extension, the United Nations — for not being sufficiently motivated to end to the flow of arms into Libya.

“Some nations are fuelling this bloody conflict,” Salame said. “The United Nations should put an end to it.” Not doing so would make the arms embargo “a cynical joke,” he said.

The United Nations had “to take up its responsibility” and ensure an end to the fighting and a return to the political process, Salame said.

8