UN sanctions against militia leader fail to convince sceptical Libyans

There is already a profound and angry belief that the international community and some individual countries are playing with Libya’s destiny.
Sunday 25/11/2018
A battle for influence. Libyan militiamen loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) keep watch from a position south of Tripoli, last September.(AFP)
A battle for influence. Libyan militiamen loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) keep watch from a position south of Tripoli, last September.(AFP)

TUNIS - In early September, after clashes broke out in the southern suburbs of Tripoli and its only working airport came under attack, the UN special envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, threatened to impose sanctions on anyone who endangered the city’s security.

When the airport was again attacked a few days later, he repeated the threat but did nothing about it, despite having said he knew who the culprits were – a state of affairs that exposed him to considerable ridicule on Libya’s social media.

Last September, though, in what may have been a warning shot to the belligerents, the UN Security Council sanctioned Libya’s notorious Ibrahim Jadhran, who between 2014 and 2016 blockaded Libya’s main eastern oil terminals at Zuweitina, Sidra and Ras Lanuf and on more than one subsequent occasion tried to recapture them, most recently in June.

On November 16, just three days after Salame again warned at the Libya conference in Palermo that anyone threatening security in Tripoli would be sanctioned, the UN Security Council added the name of hard-line Misratan military commander Salah Badi to its sanctions list, subjecting him to an asset freeze and travel ban.

Badi’s Somoud militia had taken a prominent part in the August/September Tripoli clashes in which more than 120 people were killed, most of them civilians.

The move, at the initiative of the United States, UK and France, is seen as a calculated gesture by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), designed primarily to send messages to other militia figures rather than an end in itself.

That there is more than meets the eye to the move is apparent in the statement by the US Treasury Department, which replicated the sanctions. It claims that Badi’s Somoud brigade instigated the violent clashes in late August and that, on entering Tripoli, he had “called for support from other militias to attack the city, plunging it into turmoil.”

It was not Badi who initiated the August 25 attack on the south Tripoli suburbs. It was the Tarhouna-based 7th Brigade, controlled by that town’s notorious Kaniat family.

Badi joined the conflict alongside the 7th Brigade in a joint effort to defeat the capital’s local militias, which are being retained at great expense to ensure security for the internationally installed Presidency Council and its Government of National Accord (GNA).

The sanctions are seen as a demonstration of Salame’s determination to make his new security arrangements for Tripoli work, but there are no sanctions against the commanders of the 7th Brigade, notably Mohamed al-Kani and his brothers who control it, or against any of the Tripoli militia commanders whose forces have been accused of numerous crimes in the capital.

While Badi is reported to be contemplating another attack on Tripoli, so too is the 7th Brigade. On November 14, two days before the Badi sanctions were unveiled, there were further clashes in the south of the city as the 7th Brigade tried to extend the territory it controls near the closed Tripoli International Airport.

Responding to the sanctions, a number of Libyan figures have criticised their one-sidedness. State Council President Khaled al-Mishri complained the sanctions were “selective” because they “did not include other parties that obstruct the political agreement.”

Another member of the State Council, Belgassem Gzeit, a leading political moderate, likewise questioned the decision. Sanctions, he said, would be “more convincing and more equitable” if they included all those in the country who had committed crimes against humanity.  “Where is the rest of the list?” he asked.

The previous State Council head, Abdulrahman Sewehli, also joined in the fray, describing the move as “selective” and “likely to backfire because it would cause polarisation.”

Like Badi, Gzeit and Sewehli are from Libya’s militarily powerful city of Misrata, and their comments are seen by some as a closing of ranks. In the city itself, there was a small demonstration by Badi supporters against the UN decision. While he can call on some determined support, Badi is far from widely popular in his hometown and prior to getting involved in the south Tripoli attacks was forced to leave for Turkey.

No friend of his, the municipal council too criticised the UN for being so selective. Singling him out weakened the validity of sanctions, it said, demanding action against all politicians and military leaders “who toy with the security and stability of Libya.”

The wording of the municipal statement was diplomatic and deliberate, aimed at preventing any local backlash in support of Badi and ensuring continued backing for the city’s other military son, Fathi Bashagha, now interior minister for the Presidency Council that Badi wants to topple.

The wider Libyan public sees the Palermo conference as a waste of time and is far more concerned with continued soaring prices and making ends meet. Members of the public appear to concur with the comments of the council that the Badi sanctions were an empty gesture that will do nothing to advance peace in the country.

There is already a profound and angry belief that the international community and some individual countries are playing with Libya’s destiny. Whether or not that’s true, the Badi sanctions in the wake of Palermo are likely to further that view.

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