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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Libya's rival governments meet to talk peace 

Delegates from rival parliaments in Tripoli and Tobruk met in Tunis to debate changes to a proposed transitional constitution, as UN envoy warns time is running short

Ghassan Salame,UN envoy to Libya envoy, addresses members of Libya's rival factions at a conference in Tunis, on September 26, 2017. Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters
Ghassan Salame,UN envoy to Libya envoy, addresses members of Libya's rival factions at a conference in Tunis, on September 26, 2017. Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters

The United Nations opened talks with Libyan factions on Tuesday in the first stage of a new Action Plan which it hopes will bring peace to the country.

Delegates from rival parliaments in Tripoli and Tobruk met at a national conference in Tunis, capital of neighbouring Tunisia, to debate changes to a proposed transitional constitution, with UN envoy Ghassan Salame warning that time to find solutions is running short.

Mr Salame insists he is optimistic, telling The National in New York last week that his three-stage Action Plan is based on canvassing of a wide range of Libyans.

“I did not make up this plan, it is a rationalisation of what I heard from the Libyans. I criss-crossed Libya, listened to hundreds in the political class, and to average Libyans,” Mr Salame told The National.

Mr Salame hopes his Action Plan will end Libya’s multi-sided civil war and win agreement on elections within twelve months.

”The Action Plan's national conference is not a new institution,” he said. “It’s a moment for reconciliation to bring everyone together including those who did not participate, or didn't want to participate in the political process.”

Libya has endured chaos ever since its 2011 revolution that saw the ousting of Muammar Qaddafi, and the chaos has seen the rise of ISIL and migrant-smuggling gangs. In some parts of the country order has broken down and militias, some created in the revolution, hold the power.

Mr Salame wants agreement on a united government that can restore basic services to the population and shepherd the country through to elections. “We have sleeping institutions that need to be awoken, divided institutions that need to be united, and hijacked institutions that need to be rebuilt,” he said.

Tuesday's negotiations focused on how to change the Libya Political Agreement, a transitional constitution formulated, but never fully implemented, in 2015.

At the talks were delegates from Tripoli’s High Council of State, a parliamentary body of the Government of National Accord, and those from the rival House of Representatives parliament in Tobruk, with both sides insisting progress must be made.

Abdusalam Nasia, House of Representatives delegation chief, said: “Our task is difficult. I call on everyone to abandon their private interests and look for the public interest,” according to a UN tweet from the meeting which was closed to the media after Mr Salame’s opening speech.

Head of the High Council of State delegation Moussa Faraj said: “We are here to advance the political process forward, for the stability of Libya,” according to the UN.

If an amended transitional constitution is approved in the Tunis talks, Mr Salame then wants a much wider gathering of all Libyan groups to agree on who will run a transitional government until elections within 12 months.

One problem is that these negotiations are continuing in the absence of a countrywide ceasefire. Fighting has continued between rival militias for the past week in the western Libyan coastal town of Sabratha, and earlier this week US air strikes hit an ISIL camp in central Libya. The decision to hold the talks outside Libya is a reminder of the insecurity in many parts of the country.

In his New York interview with The National, Mr Salame warned of “spoilers” who he expects to try and frustrate the talks, but insisted that the overwhelming majority of Libyans crave peace. “I don’t know a single peace process — and I have been part of one or two — that doesn’t have spoilers … The Libyan peace process will have its spoilers.”