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Op-Ed: Agreement reached by rival Libyan government negotiators

There are two main rival governments in Libya although some parts of the country are controlled by neither group. In the south several tribes are the de facto rulers and in Sirte and surrounding area the Islamic State is in control. The General National Congress(GNC) government is located in Tripoli the capital, while the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) is based in the eastern city of Tobruk. Leon reported that the two sides had been able to overcome their differences on a number of outstanding issues. He claimed this made a final signing by September 20 much more likely, resulting in a new Government of National Accord(GNA) which he hopes will be up and running before the mandate of the HoR runs out in late October.

Up until these meetings the GNC negotiators had refused to agree to the most recent draft agreement. However, it appears Leon has been able to incorporate at least some of the nine amendments the GNC demanded into the draft or annexes. Up to now, Leon has insisted that he would not amend the draft that had already been initialled by the HoR and other negotiators, but he is seemingly now contemplating some minor amendments. Most of the GNC concerns will be met in consideration of the annexes to the agreement. Leon clarified this issue when answering a question at a recent news conference. Leon noted that for the first time there is the possibility of an agreement acceptable to both key rival governments, and added that both sides have made compromises.

The pro-GNC Libya Observer claims the new draft has the State Council being composed of true members of the GNC verified through a list of members at the date of signing. The original draft had just 90 of 120 members of the Council coming from the GNC. It would appear that the Council’s powers will also be extended although the HoR remains the sole legislative body. Allowing this was a giant concession by the GNC, since their position has always been that since the Libyan Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the June 2014 election for the HoR was unconstitutional that the HoR was in effect dissolved. GNC reports consistently refer to the HoR as the “dissolved parliament.”

Another key amendment according to the Observer says: According to the new draft, all military positions would be vacant right after the final draft signing. The Unity Government, as Chief Commander of the Army, would name incumbents for the vacant military positions in 30 days. If failed, the government should rename the incumbents during the next 30 days. This amendment appears to sideline Khalifa Haftar, at present the commander of the Libyan Armed Forces. However, even the original draft gave senior members of the GNA, unity government the role of commander-in-chief. The UN knows the Tripoli government will never allow Haftar to be head of the armed forces of the GNA. The two sides are to return to their respective parliaments to get their approval to continue the dialogue.

It could very well be that the HoR refuses to continue negotiations because the original draft has been altered to take into consideration some of the GNC’s concerns. Haftar, who rejects the agreement, will no doubt be pressuring the HoR to withdraw from the dialogue. The speaker of the HoR sent a list of requirements for the HoR to continue the dialogue with some that are inconsistent with the present draft. One of the conditions was that all of the legislation and all appointments by the HoR before the unity government is formed be valid and honoured. This would include the appointment of Haftar as head of the armed forces and of many other former Gadaffi military officials who are now part of the Libyan National Army. Do not be surprised if the HoR now becomes the party that refuses to ratify the agreement.

In his report, Leon again says nothing about a parallel military dialogue with the military forces of Tripoli and those of the HoR led by Haftar. Neither Haftar nor Libya Dawn, the main Tripoli forces, accept the agreement. Haftar calls Libya Dawn members terrorists and vows never to sign a ceasefire with them or negotiate with them. Without some parallel military agreement as Leon has often in the past noted, there can be no enforcement of the political agreement.

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Foreign powers will no doubt exert much pressure on the HoR to accept the revised draft. There could be considerable conflict between the U.S., the EU and many Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE who support Haftar. Since we do not know all the details of the draft as yet, it is always possible that the GNC government will reject the new draft, but most likely they will send suggested names for a deputy and continue with the dialogue process. The new negotiating team sent by the GNC to these meetings included several who are regarded as more hard line than the earlier group. The head of that group resigned. Leon appears to have decided that it was worth while accepting some of the GNC demands in order to have them sign on. However, he may have created a situation where once again the HoR will come back with its own demands for continuing to participate in the talks.

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