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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

UN envoy to Libya visits Benghazi on diplomatic tour of country

It comes after Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who commands the powerful Libyan National Army aligned with the House of Representatives parliament, last month declared victory in the campaign for the eastern city

Ghassan Salame (top), the UN envoy to Libya, arrives in the eastern city of Benghazi. Abdullah Doma / AFP
Ghassan Salame (top), the UN envoy to Libya, arrives in the eastern city of Benghazi. Abdullah Doma / AFP

The UN envoy to Libya visited the eastern city of Benghazi on Thursday to meet with civil society groups and others, as he continues his tour of Libyan cities on both sides of the conflict alongside shuttle diplomacy.

Ghassan Salame, the new head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, “landed at Banina airport for a long day of interactions in #Benghazi w/ Libyan actors from various spectrums”, the mission’s official Twitter account said.

Mr Salame was also pictured meeting with university student union representatives linked to Libya's elected parliament, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.

“SRSG @GhassanSalame @ #Benghazi Uni w/ Students Union emanated frm HoR: Wouldn't want my 1st week in #Libya to pass w/o visiting this city,” the tweet said.

Last month, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who commands the powerful Libyan National Army aligned with the House of Representatives, declared victory in the campaign for Benghazi.

Beyond familiarising himself with various stakeholders in the divided country, the seasoned Lebanese mediator faces the deep challenge of pushing a range of political and militia factions to accept the Joint Declaration that was signed in Paris on July 25 by the head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, Fayez Al Sarraj, and Field Marshal Haftar.

Read more: The rise and rise again of Libya's Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar

Ostensibly the Joint Declaration is a peace deal that puts in place a ceasefire between the LNA and militias loyal to the GNA, who have been fighting for control of the country for three years. But so far fighting has continued on a number of fronts.

The ultimate goal is for a real cease fire to stick and for the details of a road map to a unity government to be negotiated before national elections sometime next year.

Previous deals have collapsed as the proliferation of armed groups in Libya have failed to comply with the terms. Both Mr Al Sarraj and Field Marshal Haftar, backed by Mr Salame’s diplomacy, must push the fractious militias on either side towards a process that will likely include a reduction of their power. No militias in Tripoli that back the GNA have disarmed, something mandated by the agreement.

Complicating this task is the increasingly strong position of Field Marshal Haftar and the House of Representatives, which now control over two-thirds of the country.

Mr Salame visited Tripoli last Friday, and after Thursday’s trip to Benghazi was expected to meet House of Representatives members in Tobruk sometime soon.

International politics also complicate the peace efforts. Italy has major security and energy interests in the country, and officials in Rome were reportedly angered they had not been invited to the Paris talks. Italy also sent a naval ship to Tripoli to assist combat human trafficking across the Mediterranean, but the move was met with some protests in the capital and elsewhere over the perceived infringement to Libyan sovereignty.

Field Marshal Haftar also publicly said his forces are instructed to confront any foreign naval vessels that enter Libyan waters.