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Op-Ed: UN peace talks in Berlin on Libya ignore reality

The meeting ignores two aspects of reality on the ground that make any agreement in Berlin worse than useless.
The first reality is that the representatives from Tripoli had been told that they were not going as representatives of the Tobruk government which has rejected the deal. The second and even more significant reality is that any political agreement is impotent without an agreement between rival militias. The leader of the Tobruk government armed forces, Khalifa Haftar, has said that he will not meet with nor agree to a ceasefire with the Libya Dawn militia of the rival Tripoli government. He would never agree to a government that gives any power to Islamists as the fourth draft of a proposed UN political agreement does.

Essa Abdel Kauoum, spokesperson for the internationally recognized government of prime minister Abdul Al-Thinni in Tobruk, accused UN envoy Leon of giving in to Islamist demands to give them more power. The previous draft version was rejected by Tripoli precisely because it gave them almost no power and all the power to the Tobruk House of Representatives(HoR). The Tripoli government regards the HoR as illegitimate and dissolved after the Libyan Supreme Court last November ruled that last year’s June elections were unconstitutional. The new draft gives another body with a majority of representatives from the GNC, Tripoli parliament, what is in effect a veto over proposed legislation from the House of Representatives if a majority reject the legislation. Kauoum said of the UN envoy’s role: “Leon brought us to square one … to appease an ideological group in a horrible way, He succumbed to extortion.”

The important EU powers and the U.S. no doubt put pressure on the UN to draft a new plan that would at least give some power to the GNC faction, unlike the last draft which was so slanted towards Tobruk that it never had a chance of being accepted in Tripoli. There must be some irritation with the Tobruk government, which itself is guilty of extortion when they demanded recognition of the HoR as the sole legitimate legislative body as a condition of even participating in the talks that they refused to attend during one period. The new draft also involves a direct challenge to Khalifa Haftar, head of the Tobruk armed forces. Under the new deal the prime minister would be supreme army commander. This is hardly surprising as Tripoli is not about to agree to have their main military opponent head of the unity government armed forces. Haftar had to be sidelined. Of course this is in no way acceptable to Haftar or to the Tobruk governmet.

A Haftar aide, Colonel Mohammed Hegazi, denounced the UN plan yesterday as a “dirty political game”” that brings the Muslim Brotherhood to power and puts their top foe Haftar on the sidelines. He said: “No one can take over the army.”

In spite of these realities, almost two dozen Libyan dialogue participants with Libya envoys of five five UN permanent Security Council members along with envoy from Italy, Spain and the EU. Leon said: The time has come to make an agreement. We can continue working for months and for years maybe to reach a perfect agreement, but Libya doesn’t have the time.”
Leon insisted that the new draft might be acceptable to both camps, though there are hard liners on both sides. The hard liners on the Tobruk side include the parliament and the head of the armed forces. Leon is hoping for an agreement by June 17th before Ramadan begins. German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, echoed an opinion of Leon:. “There is no more time to wait for a fifth or sixth proposal from Bernardino Leon.” By then the prospect of an agreement will probably become irrelevant as Haftar and the Tobruk decide that they will continue with Operation Dignity to defeat not just the Islamic State but the forces of the Tripoli government. They will probably have the support of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

A huge conglomeration of country officials issued a statement on the Libyan situation: Senior officials of the Governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States of America as well as of the European Union met today in Berlin with the Libyan delegates to the UN-led Political Dialogue and in the presence of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG), Bernardino León. The Tobruk representatives were not there as representatives of the Tobruk government. It remains to be seen what reception they will receive if they return to Tobruk. There have been no talks between competing military forces as Haftar refuses to talk to Libya Dawn, the main militia associated with Tripoli. He says he will never accept a ceasefire with Islamist militias. Nevertheless the assembled countries applaud the talks: The Governments and the EU called on the Libyan leaders to grasp the opportunity to reconvene on an urgent basis under UN auspices in good faith so as to agree now on a Political Agreement which provides for a general ceasefire, for inclusive political institutions, including a Government of National Accord (GNA), and for interim security arrangements. They urged all Libyan parties to overcome the remaining obstacles to an agreement, to create a conducive environment for a lasting and inclusive solution to the current conflicts, to immediately cease all hostilities and to prevent all actions that may disturb the political process. At the same time, they underlined their resolve to elaborate appropriate measures against those who threaten Libya’s peace, stability or security, or obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition.

So far the sanctions threat has been used against one fall guy from each side. Neither Al-Thinni prime minister of the Tobruk government nor Haftar both of whom have acted in ways that merit sanctions have been warned that they may face sanctions. Indeed Haftar is untouchable so far.

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