UN envoy warns foreign intervention may be imminent in Libya
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.