UN should build on Libyan cease-fire announcements

UN should build on Libyan cease-fire announcements

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Khalifa Haftar, left, Aguila Saleh Issa, center, and Fayez Al-Sarraj during an International Conference on Libya, Elysee Palace, Paris, May 29, 2018. (AFP)

There was a collective sigh of relief when key players in the Libya conflict agreed in statements issued last Friday to a cease-fire followed by early elections. The Government of National Accord (GNA) announced a cessation of hostilities across the country and the demilitarization of Sirte and Al-Jufra, two hotly contested areas. Its rival, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, issued a similar statement on the cease-fire and called for “early presidential and parliamentary elections next March.”

There were calls to turn a new page and launch a process of “comprehensive national reconciliation,” making Sirte a temporary base for the new presidential council and calling for the capital Tripoli to be “secured by an official police force from all regions of the country in preparation for unifying state institutions.” The two statements also called for an end to the oil blockade imposed earlier this year. Despite the fact that the cease-fire was not expected at this time, it appeared to be holding and Libyans enjoyed a rare quiet weekend.

There was near global consensus in welcoming the moves by the two Libyan rivals, with calls to seize the moment and try to move the peace process forward. Several key countries involved in bringing peace to the troubled country, as well as the UN, Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), lauded the cease-fire initiative. In a statement issued on Friday, the GCC called on all parties in Libya to “adhere to this constructive step” and to urgently engage in political dialogue, through UN mediation, “toward reaching a permanent and comprehensive solution to end the conflict in Libya and achieve security and stability.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was among the first to support the new move, calling it an “important step toward a political settlement.” The US, Canada, UK, and the EU all issued statements in support. Turkey, Italy and France, who supported different sides in the conflict, applauded the cease-fire as a welcome development.

It is important that this welcome agreement between the GNA and the Libyan parliament is supported by all outside powers.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Saudi Arabia also supported the announcement and called for internal dialogue in order to realize a “permanent solution” that “guarantees the security and stability of Libya.” The UAE swiftly expressed its support for the cease-fire call, stressing that the only way to end the conflict is a political solution under UN supervision. It considered the announcement an “important step toward the political solution and the realization of the Libyan people’s ambitions to build a future of stability, peace and prosperity, consistent with the Berlin Conference outcomes, the Cairo Declaration and the Sukheirat Accord.”

Although Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar has been silent on the cease-fire, some statements attributed to his Libyan National Army indicated a lack of trust and skepticism that its rivals would honor the agreement. The fact there is universal support for the deal, including among some of his key allies, may persuade Haftar to go along with it if the other side remains committed to the cease-fire declaration.

Similarly, although Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin welcomed the announced cease-fire, some social media accounts thought to be close to Ankara expressed doubts about it.

Some others have expressed skepticism because of what happened with earlier attempts to enforce a cease-fire. For example, in April, a truce was announced but it quickly fell apart because there was no alignment between outside powers and local actors. It is, therefore, important that this welcome agreement between the GNA and the Libyan parliament is supported by all outside powers. The role of the UN is crucial to ensuring the implementation of the cease-fire and to follow it up with steps toward elections.

The sudden resignation of UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame in March created a pause in UN mediation efforts and may have contributed to a worsening of the situation on the ground, especially after the heavy-handed intervention by Turkey. So it is imperative that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should appoint a new mediator. Until then, the UN Support Mission in Libya should take up the mediator role and translate the fragile understanding announced last Friday into action, along the lines delineated by the two rival groups.

The global and regional consensus was clearly expressed through the Berlin process and the Cairo Declaration. In January, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany convened a conference to “create new political impetus and rally international support for finding a solution to the conflict” and pave the way for a “Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process that can end the hostilities and bring lasting peace.” Heads of states and high representatives from 12 countries, including all five UN Security Council permanent members, and several international and regional organizations took part. They stressed that the conflict in Libya represented a “threat to international peace and security by providing fertile grounds for traffickers, armed groups and terrorist organizations,” including Al-Qaeda and Daesh. The participants committed to “refraining from interference in the armed conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya and urge all international actors to do the same.”

The Berlin Conference endorsed a UN-prepared blueprint. According to documents sent to the UN, it reaffirmed the participants’ “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya.”

The blueprint that the UN itself presented at the Berlin Conference has gained acceptance by all parties. This proposal was clearly shaped by consultations the organization held with all Libyan parties and, as such, represented a Libyan national consensus. In addition to cease-fire modalities, the blueprint stressed the need for the implementation of the arms embargo, a return to the political process, and introduction of economic and political reforms. It also highlighted the key role that Libyans should play in this process, with UN support. The Cairo Declaration indicated a regional endorsement of the Berlin process.

With Friday’s cease-fire announcements, and with a clear consensus on the shape of the political solution that Libyans want, the ball is now in the UN’s court to translate this national, regional and international consensus into practical steps along the lines agreed to in the Berlin process and the Cairo Declaration.

  • Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council’s assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent those of the GCC. Twitter: @abuhamad1
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