UN chief welcomes Libya rivals’ agreement to hold elections

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has commended both sides for reaching agreement. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 March 2019

UN chief welcomes Libya rivals’ agreement to hold elections

  • The agreement was reached at a meeting in the UAE on Wednesday
  • A previous agreement in 2018 was delayed due to ongoing dispute

CAIRO/TRIPOLI: The UN secretary-general has welcomed an agreement between rival Libyan leaders to hold elections.

The agreement came in a meeting on Wednesday in the United Arab Emirates’ capital between Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of Libya’s UN-recognized government in Tripoli in the west, and Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of Libya’s national army which dominates the east.

In a statement late Friday, Antonio Guterres commended both parties’ “agreement on the need to end the transitional stages in Libya through the holding of general elections.”

Haftar and Sarraj had agreed to a Paris-brokered deal in May 2018 and hold a nationwide election by the end of the year. But their disputes delayed those plans.

Libya slid into chaos after a 2011 uprising that toppled long-time ruler Muammar Qaddafi.

 

Timeline

Libya has been mired in chaos since the ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with two rival authorities and a multitude of militias vying for control of the oil-rich country. The capital Tripoli is the seat of an internationally backed government led by Fayez Al-Sarraj, while a parallel administration operates out of the east supported by military strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

Here is a timeline of the Mediterranean country’s descent into turmoil:

• Triggered by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrations erupt in Libya in February 2011. A coalition led by Washington, Paris and London lends its backing to an armed revolt.

• Qaddafi, who has ruled for 42 years, flees the capital. He is captured and killed on Oct. 20, 2011 during a battle for his hometown Sirte, east of Tripoli. Three days later, the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) declares Libya’s “total liberation.”

• In August 2012, it hands power to a transitional authority, the General National Congress (GNC), elected a month earlier.

• US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three American staff are killed in a Sept. 11, 2012 attack on their consulate in Libya’s second city Benghazi. A militant group is blamed.

• A car bomb in April 2013 targets France’s embassy in Tripoli, wounding two French guards. Most foreign delegations withdraw from the country.

• Dissident Army General Haftar launches an offensive in May 2014 against militant groups in Benghazi. He is backed by Egypt and the UAE. Several military officers from the east join his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

• As nationalists and extremists vie for power, legislative elections are held in June and the General National Congress is replaced by a Parliament dominated by anti-extremists.

• Militias contest the results and group under the banner of “Fajr Libya” (Libya Dawn) and storm Tripoli in August, installing their own “national salvation” government and restoring the GNC. The elected house, which has international recognition, takes refuge in the eastern city of Tobruk near the border with Egypt. Thus the country finds itself with two governments and two parliaments.

• After months of negotiations and under international pressure, lawmakers from the rival parliaments sign a December 2015 accord in Morocco to set up a UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

• In March 2016, GNA chief Sarraj arrives in Tripoli to set up the new government. Haftar’s rival administration, however, refuses to recognize its authority.

• n July 2017, Sarraj and Haftar meet for talks near Paris where they agree to a cease-fire and commit to elections the following year.

• They meet again in Paris in May 2018, weeks after Daesh suicide attackers kill 14 people at Libya’s electoral commission, and commit to holding parliamentary and presidential polls in December.

• In June 2018, a militia attacks two northeastern oil sites under Haftar’s control through which oil is exported. After days of fighting, Haftar’s forces announce they are back in “full control” and have also seized the city of Derna from radical militants.

• In November Haftar boycotts an international conference in Palermo, Italy.

• On Feb. 6, 2019, the LNA announces it has seized one of the country’s biggest oil fields.

• Days later the African Union calls for a global conference in July with the aim of holding elections in October.

• On Feb. 28, the UN says Libya’s rivals have met and agreed to hold national elections.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.