The United Nations throws its weight behind a new administration in Libya as the international community seeks to end a civil war that has brought chaos and allowed ISIL to flourish.
UN takes a gamble as it pushes for Libya unity
Paris // The United Nations this week embarked on a risky strategy by throwing its support behind a new government to bring peace to Libya as it tackles the growing menace of ISIL.
The new administration, the Government of National Accord (GNA), is the result of more than a year of UN mediation between Libya’s warring factions. It is designed to end a civil war that has brought chaos and allowed the extremist group to flourish.
“The members of the Security Council renewed their call ... on member states to cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions that claim to be the legitimate authority but are outside of the Libyan Political Agreement,” said the UN on Monday.
The plan is that the nine-member presidential council of the GNA will move to Tripoli from its current base in Tunis – the Tunisian capital – and take control of key ministries and the central bank. Both Libya’s existing governments, in Tripoli and Tobruk, will defer to it and a new cabinet can begin rebuilding the country while a unified army can turn its guns on ISIL.
America’s Libya envoy Jonathan Winer expressed hope that the new government could end the division between the existing adminstrations. “Tripoli-Tobruk competition has failed to secure stability, safety, jobs, health care, electricity to Libya’s people. GNA must do this,” he tweeted.
Libyans are certainly suffering. More than half a million of the six million population are refugees, fleeing both the civil war between the forces of the rival governments and a rapidly expanding ISIL. The chaos from two competing central banks squabbling for the country’s foreign reserves has led to shortages of medical supplies, petrol and flour. The UN’s Libya envoy Martin Kobler declared last week that 95 per cent of Libyans want a unity government.
But first the GNA needs to move from Tunis to Tripoli, and this is where the problems begin.
The National Salvation Government in Tripoli, and its parliament, the General National Congress, are opposed to both the Tobruk goverenment and the GNA. Many of Tripoli’s galaxy of militias have also refused to cooperate with the GNA.
On top of this, the city is becoming increasingly dangerous.
“In Tripoli, clashes between armed groups have been occurring on an almost weekly basis, especially in the second half of 2015,” the UN security council’s panel of experts said in report last week. “Security in Tripoli is linked to evolving alliances among armed groups and their stance vis-a-vis the United Nations-sponsored dialogue.”
The GNA has a complicated structure. It was created by Libya Dialogue, a UN-chaired negotiating team comprising 40 delegates from both existing governments and some key factions.
It is led by a nine-strong presidency with a prime minister, Faiz Al Siraj, a respected Tripoli politician.
The UN plan calls for the GNA to be endorsed by the internationally recognised parliament in Tobruk, after which that recognition status would shift to the GNA, giving it control of Libya’s overseas assets and oil income.
However, four debating sessions called this year to debate the move broke up without a vote. On February 23, a letter was published with the names of 100 members of the Tobruk parliament stating they supported the GNA, but disruption and chaos in the chamber prevented a vote from taking place.
It is this letter that the UN has relied upon in declaring the new government’s legitimacy. But many question the validity of the letter.
Mohammed Shoaib, Tobruk’s deputy speaker and a prominent member of Libya Dialogue, has declared that the letter is not enough, and that for legal reasons parliament must vote for the GNA to be valid.
Prime minister Khalifa Al Ghweil of the Tripoli-based government has refused to step aside and on Tuesday suggested the GNA may face arrest if it enters the city. When a GNA security unit flew from Tunis to Tripoli’s Meetiga airport last week, they were briefly arrested by a local militia but were later allowed to leave Libya.
What these disputes underline is the failure of the new administration to prove that it is a truly a “unity government” for all Libyans.
Yet in the absence of unity, Libya’s chaos can only grow worse.
ISIL continues to grow, with the Pentagon estimating it has 5,000 fighters in the country. This week, the extremists struck at Sarir, the largest remaining group of working oil fields, following attacks in January on the oil ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf.
The European Union on Wednesday ordered sanctions on the parliamentary leaders of both existing governments in Tripoli and Tobruk, accusing them of obstructing the GNA.
Foreign powers met in Rome on Wednesday saying they may consider launching air strikes against ISIL, easing the UN arms embargo and providing trainers for a new Libyan army, if the new government makes a formal request.
But first, this new government must move to Tripoli, and demonstrate it really is a unity administration accepted by all Libyans. Failure to do this will leave Libya with three competing governments, magnifiying the country’s chaos.