Tripoli – The success of a UN-mediated dialogue between opposing factions of the Libyan parliament, aimed at resolving the country’s ongoing crisis, cannot be guaranteed, according to Libyan officials.
The dialogue, the first such negotiations since a surge of violence erupted last May, began on Monday in Ghadames, on the border with Algeria. Facilitated by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, the dialogue is aimed at creating a framework agreement and a robust consensus on how to achieve democratic transition in the country. Delegates have already agreed on a countrywide ceasefire declaration, and after a meeting on Monday, the UN hailed the process as “historic”. The meeting involved members of the elected House of Representatives and parliamentarians who have boycotted its sessions.
But amid violence that has displaced hundreds of thousands of residents and cut off key infrastructure, some Libyan officials remain skeptical of what the dialogue will ultimately achieve. “The real forces on the ground [the rebel groups] are not represented in those meetings, and that is enough reason why expectations should not be high,” said Abdulqader lhweily, chair of the media committee for the General National Congress (GNC).
Libya has been locked in a bloody civil war since mid-July, when the so-called Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, began a military operation codenamed “Dignity” against the forces known as the Dawn of Libya, which has managed to secure Tripoli Airport and a number of important military sites formerly controlled by the Libyan National Army in and around Benghazi.
The fighting has resulted in the emergence of parallel political institutions, with two separate legislatures and two separate cabinets: while one set of institutions is backed by the GNC (which continues to function in Tripoli), another, led by former Prime Minister Abdullah Althanni, sits in Tobruk in the country’s east and has been recognised internationally as holding legitimacy.
to confront those militias”]
Last week, the UN, EU and a group of 13 nations called for “an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire” in Libya, after the UN mission there proposed talks between the rival political factions. UNSMIL, in a statement posted to its website, set forward the principles on which the dialogue would be premised, including recognition of the legitimacy of elected bodies, respect for Libya’s constitutional conventions and human rights, and an understanding that terrorism was to be renounced. The UN mission also called on fighting groups in control of Tripoli to recognise the Tobruk parliament
The statement also made clear that the unprecedented dialogue would focus on achieving a set of internal bylaws to govern the Libyan Chamber of Deputies – currently in session in Tobruk – as well as a number of pressing issues facing the executive now running Libya. At the same time, the UN would undertake further, separate negotiations with Libya’s opposing factions in a bid to build confidence and ensure the security needed for greater trust and peace.
The UN also demanded that all Libyan parties abide by Security Council Resolution 2174 , and specifically the call for an immediate ceasefire. UNSMIL and its Libyan partners were already preparing a joint committee to oversee such a ceasefire. In addition, the UN demanded that the opposing sides agree to a timeline for the withdrawal of all armed groups from major cities, airports and other public institutions throughout Libya.
But according to Saleh al-Senousi, international relations professor at Benghazi university, dialogue alone is not likely to end the crisis in Libya or solve the problem of the proliferation of armed groups.
“Libya’s nascent democratic experience has become captive to those paramilitary groups, but the real problem is the absence of serious security forces [army and police] to confront those militias,” al-Sensousi said.
Indeed, the defense porfolio was conspicuously vacant when, on September 28, Althanni’s government was sworn in in Tobruk. Althanni had been the Prime Minister in a previous government since this past March, but resigned in June before being asked to return to form a new cabinet by the assembled delegates.
The dialogue has also come under criticism from GNC supporters, who called for a demonstration in front of UN offices in Tripoli during the week. “This dialogue aims to give a lease of life to those who have been defeated politically and militarily,” said a statement issued by a group called Libya’s Revolutionaries, an umbrella organisation for mostly Islamist-oriented armed groups based in Tripoli.