UN hits dead end on attempts to create political dialogue

Ghassan Salame says there is no chance of Libya’s political and military leaders starting to resolve their differences until the supply of external support, in particular weapons, dries up.
Saturday 07/09/2019
Low hopes. Ghassan Salame, UN special envoy for Libya, speaks during an interview at his office in Tripoli. (AFP)
Low hopes. Ghassan Salame, UN special envoy for Libya, speaks during an interview at his office in Tripoli. (AFP)

TUNIS - UN mediation in Libya refocused its efforts on changing the attitude of foreign countries intervening in the crisis in the oil-rich North African country.

Faced with the near impossibility of getting the main Libyan combatants to engage in political dialogue, UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame is trying to persuade countries actively supporting one side or the other, particularly through the supply of weapons, to stop doing so.

He said there was no chance of Libya’s political and military leaders meeting to resolve their differences until the supply of external support dries up.

This came out clearly September 4 during Salame’s bimonthly briefing on Libya to the UN Security Council when he detailed plans for an international conference to convince countries breaching the international arms embargo on Libya to commit to non-interference.

Pointing out that he was giving his briefing five months to the day that Libyan National Army (LNA) Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched his Tripoli offensive, Salame said there had to be a return to dialogue.

He said he saw encouragement that there had been a ceasefire during Eid al-Adha. It had happened because of international pressure, he said, and it could happen again and for a longer period.

“We would like the international community to use this meeting to send a strong message on the need for respect of the arms embargo,” Salame said. “It remains abundantly clear that without the commitment of key external actors engaged in Libya, the conflict will continue.”

He warned that continued external military support to one side or the other could only result in escalation, which he said would create chaos in the entire region.

There could be movement from the Egyptian government. Despite its firm support for Haftar and determined opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood having a major role in running Libya, there are reports of Cairo wanting to reduce tensions with the government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and that it is thinking of inviting Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala for talks.

However, the chances of Ankara changing its Muslim-Brotherhood-aligned policies are remote and while it refuses to move, there is little likelihood of Cairo doing so. The same goes for other regional governments involved in Libya.

As a result, the plan for a conference telling them to stop breaching the arms embargo is viewed as an uphill struggle for Salame if the international community thinks in advance that it would fail.

Tuareg and Tebu members of the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) called on the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the international community to concentrate instead on what they said is the root on the crisis: the way in which the Libyan state had been formed.

Alsonousi Wahli and Khaled Wahli, Tebu members who are boycotting the CDA, and Abdulsalam Hamtoum, the Tuareg member from Obari, called for the draft constitution submitted by the CDA to the House of Representatives (HoR) in July 2017 but pushed into the sidelines by legal disputes and HoR divisions, to be revised.

“There is no doubt that our country needs a comprehensive national reconciliation and the best way to achieve that is a comprehensive national consensus on the constitution,” they said in a statement.

The constitution had to reflect the existence of Libya’s three minorities — Tuareg, Tebus and Amazigh — as well as the ambitions of those demanding federalism, they said.

UNSMIL failed to understand this, they declared. For seven years, it had taken the wrong approach. Reflecting that concern, they called on the African Union and democratic African countries, “particularly South Africa, Ethiopia and Tunisia,” to play a more active role in resolving the Libyan crisis.

They called for the constitution to “determine the basis of the composition and functions of the Libyan National Army in a manner that represents all Libyans. The constitution [must] set out how to solve the problem of the armed groups.”

The call for a revision is linked to events in the southern town of Murzuq. The conflict between the Tebu and the LNA in and around Murzuq had been ongoing since February when the LNA initially moved in, backed by the town’s majority Arab population, members of Al-Ahali tribe.

Matters reached a climax in August when, following an LNA bombardment in which several dozen Tebu were killed, Tebu forces took control of the town, causing a mass exodus of the Ahali.

Attempts have been undertaken by UAE mediators to broker a peace between the Tebu and the Ahali but also between the Tebu and the LNA. A Tebu team led by Murzuq’s Tebu HoR member Mohamed Leynu was invited for talks in the United Arab Emirates.

Both Tebu CDA members said they want the UAE talks to succeed and the Ahali to return but they added they are not confident about the talks or the bigger picture.

“Haftar calls us Chadians,” Alsonousi Wahli said. Officials and politicians on both sides of the political divide “say that the Tebu are not Arab and if you’re not an Arab, you’re a foreigner. They want us to leave.” Worse, he added, no one was speaking against this.

A determination to ensure constitutional protection for Libya’s Tebu as well as Tuareg and Amazigh communities is behind the call for a revision of the draft constitution but their fears that Libya’s political leaders reject them indicated that the two Tebu CDA members were as pessimistic as Salame about the next steps forward.