UN hails Libya elections ‘breakthrough’ at Tunis political talks

Agreement at meeting in Tunisia’s capital paves the way for a road map towards ‘free, fair, inclusive’ elections in 18 months.

'There's real momentum and that's what we need to focus on and encourage,' United Nations envoy Stephanie Williams said at a news conference in Tunis, Libya [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Libya’s warring sides have agreed to hold elections within 18 months, the United Nations has said, hailing a “breakthrough” in a fraught peacemaking process.

“There’s real momentum and that’s what we need to focus on and encourage,” Stephanie Williams, the UN’s acting Libya envoy said on Wednesday at a news conference in Tunis, where 75 Libyan participants chosen by the global body have been meeting since Monday.

The meeting has reached a preliminary agreement on a road map to “free, fair, inclusive and credible parliamentary and presidential elections” that also includes steps to unite institutions, she added.

A major oil producer, Libya has been wracked by violence since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the North African country has been dominated by armed groups, riven by local conflicts and divided between two bitterly opposed administrations: Tripoli’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and a rival administration in the east affiliated with renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

With foreign powers also pouring in arms and mercenaries, many Libyans remain sceptical of peacemaking efforts. However, the Tunis talks follow a ceasefire that the GNA and LNA agreed to last month in Geneva.

On Thursday, a joint military commission they established in the flashpoint city of Sirte to hammer out the details of the truce will consider adopting proposals for both sides to withdraw from the front lines.

Thursday’s talks in Tunis will focus on a new unified transitional government to oversee the run-up to elections, with participants discussing its “prerogatives and competencies”, Williams said.

The new government would have to quickly address deteriorating public services and corruption, two issues that prompted protests on both sides of the front lines this summer, she added.

The road map also outlines steps to begin a process of national reconciliation, transitional justice and address the plight of displaced people, Williams said.

She added that Tuesday’s assassination of dissident lawyer Hanan al-Barassi in Benghazi “reminds us of the need for Libyans to really end this long period of crisis and division and fragmentation and impunity”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies