UN envoy warns foreign intervention may be imminent in Libya

Friday 25/03/2016
UN Special Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler speaks at the eighth ministerial meeting of Libya’s neighbouring countries, on March 22nd.

Tunis - Libya’s UN-backed unity government, led by Prime Minister-designate Faiez al-Sarraj, will have to move to Tripoli from Tu­nis “within days” to try to pull the country out of the current may­hem, warned UN Special Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler.
Kobler, a veteran German diplo­mat, speaking March 22nd at a con­ference in Tunis, also expressed fears the Islamic State’s swift ex­pansion leaves little time before a foreign military intervention takes place.
The conference was attended by representatives of the six countries bordering Libya along with those from the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union. The meeting aimed to support the call by Western powers for the unity government to start working in Tripoli to counter the spread of the Islamic State (ISIS), worsening economic and social circumstances and growing fears about a new flow of illegal migrants to Europe.
“It is a matter of days not weeks for the unity government to go to Tripoli,” said Kobler, who had facil­itated the formation of the Libyan leadership following talks among various political and military fac­tions and figures from the main tribes and civic groups.
“We will move soon to Tripoli and our relocation will go smoothly and without firing a single bullet,” a senior political adviser of Sarraj told The Arab Weekly. The Libyan official did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The unity government was named under a plan to end the po­litical chaos and conflict that have scarred Libya since the uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi five years ago.
Since 2014, the country has had two rival parliaments and govern­ments, one based in Tripoli and one in the east.
The eastern government said in a March 18th statement that, while it supported the unity cabinet, any attempt to impose the government represented a “violation of Libyan sovereignty and reflected lack of respect for the democratic pro­cess”.
“It will deepen the Libyan crisis and the economic situation, in­crease division and shatter the po­litical accord built on consensus,” it said.
It also warned local and interna­tional parties to work with the new government only after parliament gave its approval. Its rival in Trip­oli warned it would detain unity government members when they came to Tripoli.
“We aim at ending the suffering of our people as we are at a danger­ous turning point with a worsening economic and social situation and Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) carving out parts of our mother­land,” Sarraj told the Tunis gather­ing.
A final communiqué of the Tunis meeting urged that “the Presiden­tial Council of the unity govern­ment moves to Tripoli to assume its duties in fighting terrorism, organ­ised crime and illegal migration, securing borders and improving the living conditions of Libyans”.
“The ministers expressed their deep concerns and worries about the expansion of the terrorist groups in some Libyan regions for the real danger they represent to the brotherly Libyan people and the future of their political process as well as the security and the sta­bility of the neighbouring states,” added the statement.
ISIS and other jihadist groups have spilled to neighbouring coun­tries, such as Tunisia where dozens of militants in early March attacked the garrison in Ben Guerdane in an attempt to establish an “emirate”. Tunisian troops foiled the assault, killing more than 50 jihadists.
Earlier, Algerian security forces arrested gunmen in the southern El Oued area attempting to smuggle a Stinger missile, which can hit aero­planes at a distance of 4.5km, and other weapons from Libya.
At least six jihadists recently travelled 1,000km across the de­sert of southern Algeria to try to attack the second largest gas field there but troops thwarted the at­tempt.
“Daesh is spreading in east, west and south of Libya. It is already late to resolve the problem of the secu­rity and military vacuum and stop the expansion of Daesh,” Kobler said.
Participants at the Tunis confer­ence reaffirmed “their rejection of any foreign military intervention and insist that any military action against terrorism must come upon the demand of the unity govern­ment”.
The Tunis meeting was the eighth in less than a year to try to spur Libyans to unite to fight ter­rorism and prevent a Western mili­tary intervention many fear could worsen the chaos in Libya.
“The danger of foreign interven­tion persists if the situation were not tackled. If the fight against Daesh is not done, this will provoke the foreign intervention to do it,” Kobler said, adding that the gov­ernment’s priority will be to tackle the security situation and build a national army.
Diplomats and activists said they are worried Libya could be forgot­ten while the European Union fo­cuses on a deal with Turkey to re­turn refugees from Greece. Such an agreement with Turkey may push traffickers to switch to North Afri­can routes to smuggle migrants to Europe.
But with the March 22nd attacks on Brussels, following the Paris as­saults in November, which claimed the lives of at least 130 people, pressures to fight ISIS in Libya are likely to increase.
ISIS claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks on the Brus­sels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital in which more than 30 people were killed.