Foreign ministers in Rome push for Libya unity deal

Delegates expected to endorse UN-brokered national unity plan for Libyan factions, amid rise of ISIL threat.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry takes part in an international conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome
The US and Italy led the international diplomatic push to get Libya's warring factions to sign a deal to form a unity government [Reuters]

Foreign ministers are expected to endorse a UN-brokered national unity plan for Libya at a Rome conference aimed at prodding the North Africa country’s bickering factions to fulfil a commitment to sign the agreement and abide by its terms.

Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, it has been torn between a UN-recognised government in eastern Tobruk and a Tripoli-based government, and now faces threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Libya is in a race against time. Its very social fabric, national unity and territorial integrity is directly endangered by the forces of extremism and terrorism.

by Martin Kobler, UN special envoy for Libya

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Sunday co-hosted a meeting that also included top diplomats and senior officials from 16 nations, the African Union, the Arab League and the UN.

The officials are set to endorse the deal that Libya’s bickering factions have said they intend to sign in Morocco on Wednesday.

The plan calls for the creation within 40 days of a national unity government that would then seek security assistance from outside parties to ease the conflict and concentrate on battling ISIL.

It would give the Libyans until early February to form a presidency council that would appoint a cabinet, including chiefs of the central bank and national oil company, and begin the process of moving the Tobruk-based parliament back to Tripoli.

Libya’s oil industry has been largely crippled by the crisis. Proper management of the industry, as well as that of the central bank, is considered essential to the country’s viability.

The plan would extend the reconstituted parliament’s term by one year and allow for an automatic one-year extension of its mandate beyond that, if necessary.

INSIDE STORY: Are Libyan factions being forced to sign a UN deal?

The UN Security Council is expected to approve of the agreement shortly after it is signed by the Libyans.

ISIL is trying to extend its influence beyond areas it now controls, including the city of Sirte. The envisioned “government of national accord” is seen as critically important to help restore security and to mobilise international support to counter the extremists.

‘Grave concern’

The United Nations and several countries worried about the rise of ISIL stepped up efforts to get the rival governments to accept the agreement since the factions rejected the deal in October.

“Libya is in a race against time,” the UN special envoy for the country, Martin Kobler, told the UN Security Council on Friday.

“Its very social fabric, national unity and territorial integrity is directly endangered by the forces of extremism and terrorism.”

Kobler, who is at the Rome meeting, mediated the meeting at which some 40 Libyan lawmakers from the two sides agreed to sign the deal this Wednesday.

The Security Council has welcomed that date and expressed “grave concern” at the expansion of ISIL fighters and their threat to Libya and the region. Council members “stressed that a unity government must be formed swiftly to counter this threat” and they again threatened sanctions against those impeding the restoration of peace and stability.

Source: AP