‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libya’s UN envoy tells foreign powers

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Updated 30 September 2021

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libya’s UN envoy tells foreign powers

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libya’s UN envoy tells foreign powers
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Taher Elsonni highlights the challenges facing Libya and how foreign powers are making them worse
  • In addition to national reconciliation there is a need for international reconciliation between the international community and Libyans, he said.

NEW YORK: Libya’s efforts to heal after 10 years of war will require not only a national reconciliation, but also an international reconciliation between the Libyan people and the global community.
That is the view of Taher Elsonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, who on Monday reiterated his country’s demand for an end to external interference and the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
“Enough is enough,” he said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “Libyans are tired of 10 years of chaos.
“As much as we talk about national reconciliation, there should also be international reconciliation. As much as we talk about confidence building, there should be confidence building between the international community and Libyans — and that starts with the simultaneous withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries, and support for the will of Libyans when they go through the electoral process.”
Libyans have been killed and their country ravaged by thousands of foreign fighters recruited by the rival forces in the country. As long as Libya’s “free will” is held hostage by these armed groups and their foreign sponsors, Elsonni said, conflicts will continue to rage in the country at a time when the proliferation of such proxy wars is causing instability across the region.
The rebels who killed Chadian President Idriss Deby in April, for example, were based in Libya, where they amassed money, accessed advanced weaponry and gained battlefield experience as guns-for-hire.
“The challenge with mercenaries is that no one acknowledges their presence,” said Elsonni.
The UN-brokered Libyan ceasefire agreement in October 2020 included a call for all 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters to withdraw from the country within three months. But when the UN Security Council discussed ways of repatriating them, observers noted that some council members were fueling the problem.
For example, Russia’s support for the Libyan National Army includes mercenaries from Russian private security company Wagner Group. Turkey, meanwhile, provided transport for thousands of Syrians to fight in Tripoli, paid them salaries and offered promises of Turkish citizenship. Other mercenaries operating in Libya hail from South Africa, the US, the UK, Australia and about 30 additional countries.
Meanwhile, Libyans attempt to navigate this sinister foreign presence as they walk an already tricky path toward national reconciliation, and attempt to consolidate the many small victories achieved in the past year as part of the political process.
These achievements — which paved the way for a ceasefire and the formation of an interim unity government tasked with shepherding the nation toward parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for December — would not have been possible without both Libyans and foreign powers reaching the conclusion that no one could win the war through military might, according to Elsonni.
“Everything was tried, and in the end everyone was convinced that there can be no military solution,” he said.
He conceded that all countries in the region are entitled to be concerned about preserving their security and national interests, but added: “You don’t need to intervene and interfere the way you did in order to have a stabilized region (and) boost the economy.
“Libya is a hub between Africa and Europe, East and West. Libyans are known for their modesty. I can no longer say Libya is a rich country, but it does have the means and the resources to come back, and with Libya stabilized we can find win-win deals that will satisfy everyone’s national interests as much as possible.
“So, let’s work together, put the past behind us and start a new phase. And let’s not provide an excuse for terrorism and extremism, which feeds on this chaos and perpetuates the conflict.”
The road to the national elections planned for December has been paved with as much fear as hope among Libyans.
Although the new Presidency Council managed to unify civilian executive bodies, the military remains fractured. Some fear that winners with weapons might start another war.
In the absence of a clear constitutional framework setting out the responsibilities of a new president, “who can guarantee that Libyans will not find themselves in the grip of yet another dictator?” asked Elsonni.
“There is a group of people that don’t want to lose the power they have today, so they are maneuvering and finding excuses for the elections not to happen,” he added.
“There are also those who fear losing power by having a high-level executive office, in the form of a president, that might lead to them losing popularity. Some want only parliamentary elections, and think a safer option is to have a steady state and give more time to the constitutional framework to be developed.
“And, finally, you have Libyans on the ground who are fed up with all the attempts of the past and want Libya as a state to have separation of power.
“The challenge in this last one is to have an ‘inclusive’ president, not one who has revenge in mind, because those who have ambitions to be president are all affiliated to a certain group, and so that is scaring people.”
All of the fears people have are valid, said Elsonni.
“But what are the alternatives that we have today?” he asked. “If I name all the obstacles that we face today, one would conclude that the risk of the elections not happening is high.”
Even if they do go ahead, he said, challenges will remain — but they at least offer the hope for change and a better future.
“Anyone who thinks elections will solve all of Libya’s problems is naive,” he said. “But we have had a sick patient for the past 10 years and we have been using the same medicine.
“Now we have the option of a new medicine in the form of elections. We are not sure how that will unfold — it’s a 50/50 risk. But a certain level of legitimate representation will get the ball rolling.”
Meanwhile, Elsonni said, national reconciliation remains “the foundation for any permanent peace in Libya.”
From the establishment of a High Commission for Reconciliation to the release, albeit symbolic, of some prisoners, there have been steps taken in the right direction.
Elsonni stressed the importance of “transitional justice” as a means toward lasting reconciliation and true healing of the nation.
“For there to be a comprehensive national reconciliation, truth needs to be revealed, and apologies issued,” he said.
Although he admitted that the responsibility for reconciliation ultimately lies primarily with the Libyan people themselves, Al-Sonni questioned the lack of useful international support for the efforts.
The ambassador, who was a UN staffer for 17 years and so is familiar with the organization’s methodologies, criticized the UN for adopting a “top-down approach” to Libya, which he said has undermined the role of civil society.
“If you follow all the dialogue that took place, they were all technical discussions that tackled military, political and economical challenges, but there was no national reconciliation track,” he said.
“There is also a lack of understanding of the Libyan context by the international community. For Libya to become a success story, we need to adopt a bottom-top approach, work on civil society and try to get the best of the tribal structure that links Libyans together.
“Some have tried to use our tribal structure as a way to fuel the war. But having tribes is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a golden key, I call it, which can lead us to peace if we use it correctly.”
Inclusivity is another important aspect to the process. Elsonni took part in the Sukhairat dialogue in 2015, and was one of the signatories to the final agreement for the formation of a national unity government.
“Not all parties who really had power on the ground were represented,” he said. “Many were completely excluded, such as the ex-regime loyalists.”
He warned that such “exclusion in any post-conflict reconciliation is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. It is a fatal error.”
Exclusion can also happen in the form of centralized governance, Elsonni said, which can, for example, cause people living outside of Tripoli, where much of the wealth is concentrated, to feel excluded.
Despite all these challenges, however, Elsonni is pinning his hopes on the next generation of Libyan youth.
“The only people who will solve this are our young people,” he said. “They are vocal and much more aware than their elders. The problem is that they still lack coordination and leadership.”
Elsonni also addressed allegations of flagrant abuses of human rights in Libyan detention centers. While he expressed regret over the fact that his country has become a place where “innocent people die,” he denied any accusation of systemic torture. Once again he pleaded with the international community to “help us make Libya stable and these issues will be resolved.”
He added: “We’re totally against such violations and we’re working hard to fix the system and protect the most vulnerable. But there is a difference between a government that doesn’t care and one that really tries, and sees this as a priority, but is spread thin with all the other different challenges and has resource problems.
“The problem is the hypocrisy of the West, and their unwillingness to devise a comprehensive solution for the migrant crisis. You cannot blame a country in conflict for what happens within it when it comes to migrants. Migrants who come to Libya aim to continue to Europe. Nobody wants to live in the hellfire of conflict, that goes without saying.”
Condemning the “double standards” of the international community, he said: “They ask us to accommodate those migrants when they know our resources are stretched thin. They ask us to shut down detention centers but they won’t tell us what to do with migrants who enter illegally, or those who are arrested at sea and pushed back to Libya.
“If you really care about migrants, then agree on a quota also and take in some of them.
“The countries that are being most forceful with Libya on this issue are the same ones that are shutting their doors to migrants. One such country literally took in four or five migrants out of the thousands that are trying to cross.
“The problem is bigger: it is EU competition between countries, and we know it. You want to blame us? Blame yourself first.”


Date set for Iran nuclear talks

Date set for Iran nuclear talks
Updated 14 sec ago

Date set for Iran nuclear talks

Date set for Iran nuclear talks
  • EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said at the weekend he was ready to meet Iranian leaders
  • The 2015 deal collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions

JEDDAH: Talks aimed at reviving the collapsed Iran nuclear deal will resume this week, two Iranian members of parliament said on Sunday.

After a private meeting with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, MP Ahmad Alirezabeigui said “talks with the 4+1 Group will restart on Thursday in Brussels.” Another Iranian MP, Behrouz Mohebbi Najmabadi, said negotiations would resume “this week.”

The 4+1 Group consists of four UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany. They began negotiations with Iran in Vienna in April over reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions.

That deal collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions, and Iran responded by breaching the deal’s restrictions on its enrichment of uranium.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden is keen to revive the deal and the US is taking part indirectly in the Vienna talks. However, discussions have been suspended since June in a stalemate over who concedes first — Iran by complying with the agreement, or the US by lifting sanctions. US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, are also concerned that the agreement fails to address wider issues such as Iran’s ballistic missiles and its malign regional activities.

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said at the weekend he was ready to meet Iranian leaders. “The goal remains to resume negotiations in Vienna as quickly as possible,” his spokesman said.


Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM
Updated 17 October 2021

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM
  • Health minister announced a second arrival of 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Cairo airport
  • The doses were provided by the US through the global COVAX initiative

CAIRO: Unvaccinated government employees will be banned from entering their workplace, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said, as the health minister spoke of the quantity and variety of jabs available and the expansion of specialist centers administering them.

“It must be ensured that all workers in the administrative authorities of the governorates are vaccinated, and soon any employee who has not been vaccinated will not be allowed to enter, especially with the wide availability of vaccines,” he told a meeting.

He called for awareness campaigns in governorates explaining the importance of vaccines, especially since the Ministry of Health was ready to provide any required quantity during this stage.

“We have 60.5 million doses of vaccines and, by the end of this month, the number of available vaccines will reach 70 million," said Dr. Hala Zayed, who is the minister of health and population. 

She acknowledged the importance of awareness campaigns and in taking the necessary measures to encourage citizens to get jabbed.

She said the number of vaccination centers had been increased and that, in the coming period, they would be established in areas frequented by citizens. These locations would include courts, traffic departments, metro stations, trains, and in front of mosques and churches on Fridays and Sundays.

The centers were for any governorate that requested them and the goal was to vaccinate citizens quickly.

Zayed said Egypt had started manufacturing vaccines and that, starting next week, the manufacturing technology would be transferred from its Chinese partner.

She also announced a second arrival of 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Cairo International Airport, provided by the US through the global COVAX initiative.

Khaled Megahed, from the ministry, said the Pfizer vaccine had approval for use from both the World Health Organization and the Egyptian Drug Authority.

The shipment of vaccines received would be analyzed in the authority’s laboratories before being distributed to 1,100 vaccination centers.

The first shipment of Pfizer vaccines, also 1.6 million doses, was received last September as part of a series of shipments provided by the US to Egypt.


Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
Updated 17 October 2021

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
  • The US has called on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib
  • The coalition announced on Saturday that it had killed 160 Houthis and destroyed 11 military vehicles in Abedia

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Sunday that 165 Houthis had been killed and ten military vehicles destroyed in operations in Marib’s Abedia district.

The coalition said it had carried out 41 operations targeting Houthis in Abedia and surrounding villages during the last 24 hours.

Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23, hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.

The Houthis continue to carry out their terrorist operations against civilians and prevent medical aid from reaching patients in Abedia, the coalition said.

On Saturday, the US called on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib, and listen to the urgent calls from across Yemen and the international community to bring this conflict to an end and support a UN-led inclusive peace process.

“The Houthis are obstructing movement of people and humanitarian aid, preventing essential services from reaching the 35,000 residents of Abedia,” a US State Department statement said.

“The US urges the Houthis to immediately permit safe passage for civilians, life-saving aid, and the wounded. As the UN stated this week, it stands ready with its partners to provide this much needed assistance to the people of Marib,” the statement added.

The coalition announced on Saturday that it had killed 160 Houthis and destroyed 11 military vehicles in similar operations in Abedia.


Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy
Updated 17 October 2021

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy
  • Syrian government and opposition co-chair meeting for first time, agree to launch process for drafting constitutional reform
  • Pedersen says the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process but will not be able to solve the political crisis itself

BEIRUT: Syria’s government and opposition in the war-torn country have agreed to start drafting constitutional reforms, the UN Syria envoy announced Sunday, a major step after a nine-month hiatus of talks and several fruitless rounds.
UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen didn’t say what was behind the agreement or offer details of what comes next. The drafting sessions formally begin Monday.
Pedersen met Sunday with the co-chairs of a committee which includes figures from fourth-term President Bashar Assad’s government, as well as exiles and civil society representatives. The two sat together for the first time to discuss how to proceed, and plans for the week ahead, Pedersen said.
Thirty representatives divided between the two sides, along with 15 members of civil society, will be meeting with Pedersen in Geneva until Friday.
“I have been negotiating between the parties to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward. I am very pleased to say we have reached such consensus,” Pedersen told reporters, appealing to all parties to maintain the spirit.
“My appeal for the 45 (members) is that we work as we have agreed to, and that we now start the drafting process of the constitutional committee,” he said.
The last round of talks ended in January without progress. Pedersen announced late September an agreement on “methodology” for a sixth round. It’s based on three pillars: respect for rules of procedure, the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles” ahead of the meeting, and regular meetings of the co-chairs with him before and during the meeting.
Syria’s 10-year conflict has killed over 350,000 people and displaced half the country’s pre-war 23 million population, including more than 5 million refugees mostly in neighboring countries.
At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution.
The 2012 United Nations’ road map to peace in Syria calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with UN-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
After the fifth round of negotiations failed in late January, Pedersen hinted the Syrian government delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.
The United States and several Western allies accused Assad of deliberately stalling and delaying the drafting of a new constitution until after presidential elections to avoid a UN-supervised vote, as called for by the Security Council.
In late May, Assad was re-elected in what the government called a landslide for a fourth seven-year term. The West and his opposition described the election as illegitimate and a sham.
Pedersen said the need for “a genuine intra-Syrian dialogue” was reportedly discussed by Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently in Moscow, “and through this, a genuine process of Syrian political reform.”


Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria
Updated 17 October 2021

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

CAIRO: Jordan’s Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission said that there are no current plans to operate flights between Jordan and Syria, state news agency PETRA reported on Sunday.
Jordan’s state carrier, Royal Jordanian, said in September it would resume direct flights to Damascus for the first time in nearly a decade, in what would have been the latest step to restore extensive business ties with Syria.

More to follow...