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Op-Ed: Khalifa Haftar claims EU threat of sanctions meaningless

Included in the list of those to be sanctioned is CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar, head of the internationally-recognized government’s armed forces. The Tobruk government or House of Representatives (HoR) controls the eastern part of LIbya. Most of the western part is controlled by the Tripoli or GNC government. The head of the HoR government’s air force is also listed to be sanctioned.

There are three individuals from the Tripoli umbrella militia organization Libya Dawn also named. The militia group has rejected the last draft of a peace accord presented to dialogue participants. The General National Congress(GNC) government in Tripoli has also rejected the draft and refused to continue the peace dialogue until amendments it presented are considered. The UN envoy Bernardino Leon insists there can be no further amendments.

While the Tobruk government has signed the UN draft agreement, Haftar has insisted he will never negotiate with Libya Dawn, whom he calls terrorists, nor will he agree to a ceasefire. Even now, Haftar is engaged in an offensive in Benghazi against an umbrella group of Islamists, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. The group includes Ansar al-Sharia, who are accused of the attack on the U.S. Consul in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and several others. The UN has condemned the conflict that has devastated much of Benghazi. Haftar has retaken most of the city but at the cost of a great deal of damage and loss of life. Haftar is apparently being asked to step aside so that the Government of National Accord can be formed. That document would give a presidential council of the president and his two deputies the role of commander in chief of the armed forces presumably putting Haftar out of a job: 2. Terms of Reference of the Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers:
a. Assume the functions of the Supreme Commander of the Libyan army

Haftar maintains his legitimacy comes from his appointment by the HoR as commander-in-chief. The new agreement validates all previous legislation of the HoR, except when it conflicts with the new agreement. However, it is doubtful that the HoR would ever agree to firing Haftar. If they ever did, there would probably be a military coup in short order. Haftar has continually snubbed the UN and the international community with complete immunity. It may be that the EU has had enough and is finally forcing the issue of side-lining Haftar. The draft agreement was an anomaly from the first and a recipe for continued civil war given the circumstances. To talk about a peace agreement when one of two rival governments did not agree to it is ridiculous to begin with. The agreement is just an attempt to isolate the Tripoli government and its militia and try to force them to accept a deal that gives them very little power in the Government of National Accord. There would be more chance of the GNC and their militia signing on to the deal if they were assured that Haftar would go. He does not seem at all inclined to do so.

Haftar’s spokesperson,Mohammed al-Hejazi, told the IB Times: “The sanctions are meaningless. At the moment we have only heard reports in the media and have had no formal message …If the West calls us criminals it makes no difference to us because we are fighting terrorism and will continue.” Both Haftar and the Libya air force commander say they cannot abide by the UN agreement even though their own government negotiators have agreed to it.

There is no word from the special UN envoy Bernardino Leon as to whether the process of forming the government has actually begun. The GNC is not participating whereas one of the bodies in the new government is a Council that has 90 of 120 members from the GNC:The State Council shall consist of one hundred and twenty (120) members. They shall be selected via consultation among the parties participating in the Libyan Political Dialogue, provided that ninety (90) members of them are selected from among the members of the General National Congress, who were elected in July 2012 through an agreed mechanism in Annex 3 of this Agreement. Leon says the agreement cannot be amended. Perhaps, Leon can find 90 members of the GNC who would serve on the Council, but that is doubtful given that the GNC rejects the agreement. The EU is apparently anxious to see the formation of a national unity government so that it can get formal approval for a naval mission designed to combat people-smugglers off the Libyan coast, resulting in a huge influx of migrants into Europe. It is not clear why the EU thinks that a unity government would help the situation, given that one of the rival governments is not a party to the agreement and both of the governments have objected to the mission as violating Libya’s sovereignty.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Garcia-Margalio told reporters: “We can’t just sit here while tragedies are happening. If dialogue is not bringing progress, it seems to me to be logical to impose sanctions,”
It is not clear how sanctions will help at all. The big powers always seem to think that sanctions will force parties to do what they want but often the sanctions make it more difficult to find a solution to conflicts. Reuters claims that a confidential discussion paper it saw included a range of sanctions including a full oil embargo.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL) has no news about the process of implementing the UN peace agreement. There is supposed to be a parallel dialogue with the rival military forces of the Tripoli and Tobruk government. Some time ago the UN envoy Bernardino Leon met with commanders connected with the Tripoli government in Misrata but without informing the senior command of the Tripoli forces. He was also supposed to meet with representatives from the Tobruk forces loyal to Haftar in Cairo. He has never reported on that meeting even though it must have happened weeks ago now.

UNSMIL gives press reports that are mostly filled with elevated rhetoric about the promises of the peace dialogue and tongue-lashings to those who do not cooperate. In my opinion, Leon deliberately decided to draft an agreement he knew that the GNC would not sign. He is forging ahead with a hopelessly flawed agreement. It is not surprising that Leon is issuing no reports on progress. Even though the Tobruk government has initialled the agreement, its main armed forces commanders have pledged not to abide by it. This agreement is a disaster with widespread international support. Powerful foreign players seem to be committed to creating another disastrous civil war in Libya.

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