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article imageOp-Ed: City of Misrata divided over support for Libyan unity government

By Ken Hanly     Mar 21, 2016 in World
Tripoli - Support among western Libya militias is divided but with many supporting the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). The municipal council of Misrata has also expressed support for the GNA and approves its intention to move to Tripoli.
The Libya Herald, a news source that often opposes the General National Council (GNC) government, based in Tripoli, claims that according to local officials, support for the GNA is strong and continuing to grow in Misrata. On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators in Misrata called on GNC head Khalifa Gwel, to resign and hand over power to Serraj, prime minister-designate of the GNA
The Misratan Council of Elders rejected the municipal council's position. The council is headed by Ibrahim ben Ghashir, a close friend of Misratan militia commander Salah Badi, a strong opponent of the GNA. Badi and the council support the GNC and its associated Libya Dawn militia which rejects the GNA. They support the Libya-Libya dialogue that involves negotiations between representatives of the two rival governments but without the UN being involved. A senior Misratan official told the Libya Herald that Gashir has no power or influence and he and the council of elders were losing support all the time. There appears to be a propaganda war with the Herald taking the side of the GNA. The pro-GNC Libya Observer gives a rather different account.
The Observer calls the political division in the city as "knife edged" but gives a reasonably objective description of what the municipal council said: In a statement Thursday, the Municipality of Misrata applauded what it described as "the unlimited international support for the Government of National Accord (GNA)", pronouncing its complete support for the government after it had gained the approval of the majority of Tobruk MPs. It also called on Al-Sirraj and his group to enter Tripoli and start working from the capital. However, the paper then mentions opposition by a group that the Herald does not even mention, the Misrata military council. The council expressed its surprise at the hastiness of the decision by the municipality. Members of the council were concerned that they were not consulted as was agreed to by the municipality at a meeting on February 23. The military council, the municipality and the council of elders all agreed they would make no decisive decisions without consultation among the three groups. Nothing is mentioned about this by the Herald. The Misrata Elders and Notables Council also criticized the decision, claiming it violated the February accord saying: “The Misrata Municipality statement does not represent all of Misrata, so we reject any attempts to move the GNA to Tripoli because this could plunge the capital into a series of fight (sic), havoc, and lack of security.” The February 23 meeting was meant to ensure a unified stance on issues and the parties agreed to set up a common committee to carry out security tasks and coordinate pivotal decisions within the city. No doubt there was pressure on the municipality to support the GNA. Now there is more likely to be open conflict.
In a recent article, Jason Pack claims that the GNC, which rejects the handover of power to the GNA, has ministers who are defecting in droves according to reports. No doubt some are attracted by the prospect of jobs with the GNA as part of the State Council. However, many have been replaced already. Pack says government employees are also shifting allegiance as well as militias. It is hard to know the degree to which this is happening. No doubt working for the GNA may seem better than staying with a government that may lose financing. There are still militia who side with the GNC and there is no sign of the Serraj government yet. At first, there will be probably just be a few members of the GNA. The legislature of the GNA is the HoR and as Pack points out, the HoR is opposed to the GNA going to Tripoli without a formal HoR vote. There is no sign of that happening or even of preparations for such a vote. The HoR has to approve certain actions of the Presidency Council. It is hard to see how the GNA can get such approval when it has not received a vote of confidence from the HoR. Perhaps the GNA will just ignore the requirement as the UN and GNA have ignored so many other requirements, such as that the Presidency Council now has the function of commander in chief of the Libyan National Army.
According to Pack, the GNA is to be housed in the Tripoli Naval Base under the protection of Tripolitanian militia. He thinks that Haftar is likely to see this as an endorsement of Tripoli militias whom Haftar strongly opposes. The plan could see the GNA not only subject to attacks by the Islamic State but by militias who support the GNC and oppose the GNA. Even worse Haftar-allied militias could attack the GNA as well. While Pack thinks that placing the GNA in the heart of Tripoli under protection of local militias may safeguard them against kidnapping, it may not secure them from violent attacks from those opposed to the GNA. So far there is no sign of the GNA in Tripoli. Perhaps they cannot get permission to land at Mitiga airport in Tripoli.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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