x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A coordinated effort to begin healing Libya

Gun-barrel vengeance, instead of real justice, will tempt many in Libya, after decades of repression and months of war. But that is the method of the old Libya, not the new one.

Healing a society after civil war is harder than rebuilding smashed infrastructure, restarting utility systems, distributing emergency aid or even choosing new leaders.

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), which must do all those things at once, can expect moral support today in Paris when Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the NTC chairman, meets the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and an array of presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers.

This impressive assembly will testify to the world's eagerness to see a smooth transition. But foreign leaders, however numerous, will not bring about a national reconciliation. Only Libyans can do that.

As Bradley Hope reports in The National today, a country in tumult now faces the danger of abrupt and bloody retributory "justice"against tens of thousands of Libyans implicated in the old regime's crimes.

Mr Jalil says, sensibly, that he hopes Col Muammar Qaddafi can be brought to trial. But other rebels assert a "right to kill" on sight. The example shows the magnitude of the problem the NTC faces.

After four decades of oppression and six months of combat, Libya is naturally a land of grudges - and awash with small arms. NTC-appointed officials are trying to establish legitimate military courts, but the task will not be easy. Thousands of rebel fighters, with no shortage of anger, adrenalin or ammunition, must be convinced that guns are no longer the best solution.

Gunpoint "justice", although tempting, would generate new bitterness, new divisions, factional jealousies and a bleak future. It could also devastate the country's thin corps of skilled managers and experts.

To be sure, crimes when proven must be punished. But non-judicial killing and punishment without trial belong to the Qaddafi decades that Libyans hated, not to the future they hope to build.

The best way to knit together elements of society is to include in the new government and public service people from all segments of this complex country, including every tribe and even former Qaddafi loyalists. After that, the next step should be to emulate the truth and reconciliation model that has served South Africa and Northern Ireland so well.

This restrained, inclusive approach, starting with even-handed and open trials after honest investigations, could notify all Libyans that they can believe in the integrity of a new government and a new day for their country.