‘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.”


Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
Updated 15 sec ago

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation

Japan-Kuwait foreign ministers confirm continued cooperation
  • Continued cooperation of two countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy

TOKYO: Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi reconfirmed with his Kuwaiti counterpart continued cooperation between their countries in petroleum energy and diplomacy.

In telephone talks held on Oct. 18 with Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Motegi stated that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attaches great importance to the relationship with Kuwait. Motegi also said he would like to work closely with Foreign Minister Dr. Al-Sabah, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.

In addition, Motegi thanked Kuwait for its long-standing stable supply of crude oil and requested Kuwait’s cooperation, including an increase in production, to stabilize the crude oil market in light of the upward trend in crude oil prices.

The two sides agreed to continue to cooperate to further develop the bilateral relations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Japan and Kuwait.

Both sides also exchanged views on bilateral relations and international cooperation, including the Joint Committee between the Governments of Japan and Kuwait.


‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence, says defense minister
  • Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns used in street battles; soldier probed over shooting person down

BEIRUT: The bloody gun battles that took place last week in the streets of Beirut were caused by an “unfortunate incident, not an ambush,” the country’s Defense Minister Maurice Selim said Monday. 
Last Thursday’s clashes killed seven people and wounded 32, after a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion turned violent.
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, carried out the protest. 
Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese Forces party, which backs Bitar, of firing on the people at the protest.
But Selim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “The demonstration deviated from its course and clashes broke out. The circumstances of what happened remain to be determined by the ongoing investigation, which relies on facts and evidence to hold those responsible accountable.”
The site of the armed clashes was between the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shiyah and the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Rummaneh, with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades used.
Security footage at one of the entrances to the Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhood went viral, upending claims about demonstrators being subjected to deliberate sniper fire from the rooftops of residential buildings. 
The footage showed a member of the Lebanese army shooting at a person who insisted on bypassing the military checkpoint and entering Ain Al-Rummaneh. 
There was chaos when this person was shot down. People threw stones and there was an exchange of fire.
Army command said: “The soldier who fired the shots is under arrest and is being investigated by the competent judiciary.”
So far, 20 people from both sides of the violence have been arrested.
Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the Lebanese Forces of “committing a massacre” against peaceful demonstrators, despite the video showing a soldier shooting at them.
“Hezbollah believes the criminal and killer to be the Lebanese Forces. But the resistance, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will not be drawn into a civil war, as they are aware of this malicious conspiracy implemented by the Lebanese Forces,” he added.
The incident has turned into a political as well as judicial dilemma.
Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are abstaining from Cabinet sessions until Bitar is taken off the probe and until “the perpetrators and those involved in the Tayyouneh incident, the gunmen, snipers, their operators, their commanders, their chiefs, and everyone who has anything to do with this matter are brought to justice,” Hajj Hassan said.
Lebanon’s administration has been inoperative since last Friday. Friday was a national day of mourning, followed by the weekend.
All institutions will resume their work on Tuesday including parliament, which is holding a plenary session and restoring the immunity of MPs, especially those that Bitar had called for questioning.

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MP Qassem Hashem, from the Development and Liberation bloc, denied news about an expedited draft law to establish an exceptional judicial body whose jurisdiction would look into the decisions, procedures and arrests carried out by Bitar, with the exception of the indictment he issued to reach the public trials before the Judicial Council.
“This matter contradicts the constitutional principles that we are keen to abide by. The draft law needs a constitutional amendment and this is not on the table,” Hashem said.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have insisted on the independence of the judiciary and have called for non-interference in judicial affairs.
It is not within the power of the Supreme Judicial Council to dismiss Bitar or to force him to take a certain course in the investigation.
However, Bitar’s course of investigation is still subject to pressure. 
On Monday, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian expressed his fear over coexistence, the National Accord Document, and the constitution.
“We should adhere to justice, but according to a clear path so that people are not divided over justice, as well as over politics” he said and warned of this “suicidal path” which everyone was “enthusiastically” jumping at. 
He called it an atmosphere that reminded people of the beginning of the civil war. 
“Every sane Lebanese should refrain from engaging in suicidal actions, and insist on the constitution, coexistence, and civil peace. Fighting in the street is forbidden, whatever the reason. Solutions can be reached through peaceful means, not by using uncontrolled weapons in the streets, especially in the capital, killing people and violating their sanctities.”
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that harming national peace and neighborliness was unacceptable, regardless of its source.
“We refuse to go back to arbitrary accusations, sectarian mobilization, attempts to isolate, compromise settlements, fabricate files against this group or that, choose scapegoats, and replace justice with revenge.”
He stressed the need to abide by the law and the judiciary, and avoid political, sectarian and partisan interference. “We need to respect the judiciary’s independence and let it correct what must be corrected by its judicial methods.”
Al-Rai called on the Cabinet to convene, as every minister should respect judicial authority, and exercise their responsibility in the name of the Lebanese people, not in the “name of influential figures.”
“Force does not frighten the believers in Lebanon. There is no weak party in Lebanon. We are all strong by our right to exist freely and our loyalty to the homeland without any interference.”


Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
Updated 19 October 2021

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
  • The militia has engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages

ANKARA: Turkey is shifting to a proxy force strategy and diplomacy with the US and Russia to counter the Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria instead of deploying its own troops, analysts have said.
It comes after senior Turkish officials hinted at a strategy change regarding the war-torn country following deadly attacks by the militia in the Kurdish-dominated Tal Rifaat region, which targeted Turkish police officers.
The militia has also engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara was “determined to remove all threats in northern Syria,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged that Turkey “would do what is necessary for its security,” adding that neither the US or Russia had kept their promises to ensure the withdrawal of the militia from the Syrian border.
But the Turkish government has said that the military will pursue a “much more different campaign” in northern Syria, sparking debate over whether Ankara will engage in diplomatic talks with the US and Russia before launching possible military action.
The militia is the chief local partner of the US in its fight against Daesh in the region, while Turkey considers the Kurdish group and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party, as Syrian extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought a civil war against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
In the meantime, the Syrian Liberation Front branch of the Syrian National Army said that it is “determined to clear our regions from all terror groups,” including the Kurdistan Workers’s Party, Democratic Union Party and Daesh.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, said that every time Russian President Vladimir Putin has allowed Turkey to enter Syria and seize territory from the Kurdish militia, he has demanded that Turkey end its support for rebel groups.
“This involved a land exchange with either Turkey taking territories from the YPG (Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria) or the Bashar Assad regime taking territories from the hands of the rebels. But this new model that we are talking right now is a bit different from this one. Now, Turkish-backed troops in Syria, instead of Turkish troops, might move in to take an area from the YPG with a tacit agreement from Putin,” he told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, Ankara’s broader strategy is to divide the militia-controlled zones and prevent the formation of any future political entity in the group’s territory.
“The recent Erdogan-Putin deal in Sochi aimed at implementing this new model,” he said.
Amid particularly sensitive times for US-Turkey relations, a growing emphasis on diplomatic channels outweighs military action, he added. Erdogan is expected to discuss the issue with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October.
After their recent meeting in Sochi, Erdogan will also talk to Putin following his meeting with Biden.
According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, the threat that Turkey sees in the Kurdish militia is the possibility of a Kurdish state being formed close to its borders.
“Ankara is therefore taking whatever measures it can to prevent this from happening,” he told Arab News.
Unluhisarcikli said that current conditions mean that it is unsuitable for Turkey to conduct military operations against YPG-held territories in northwest or northeast Syria.
Therefore, Ankara will push diplomatic channels to proceed efficiently, he added.
“Turkey is already in a tense relationship with Russia over Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and would not like to add a new layer to these tensions. At a time when Turkey is trying to improve relations with US, it would not like to introduce a new headache,” he said.
Meanwhile, during a press conference last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration does not support efforts to normalize relations with the Assad regime.
Experts also note that the fate of Idlib province, hosting about 4 million civilians under the control of Turkish-backed rebels, will be critical in the coming days in shaping the calculus of Turkey’s relationship with Syria, with a potential migrant influx causing domestic political worries for Ankara.
On Saturday, shelling by regime forces of the opposition-held town of Sarmada on the northern outskirts of Idlib near the Turkish border killed four people and wounded more than a dozen, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
Updated 19 October 2021

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
  • The two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields
  • Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also met with the UK health, education and climate change officials

LONDON: UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have pledged to develop areas of joint cooperation and enhance their development relations.
The ministers met in London on Monday, where the two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields, including economic, trade, investment and climate change.
Sheikh Abdullah’s visit comes after a recent visit by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed to the UK, where he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and announced the establishment of a new and ambitious partnership between the two countries for the future.
Sheikh Abdullah and Truss also discussed regional and international issues of common interest.
During his visit, the UAE foreign minister also held talks with the UK health secretary Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, secretary of state for education, and Alok Sharma and president of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).


Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 

Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 
Updated 19 October 2021

Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 

Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 

AL-MUKALLA: The Central Bank of Yemen on Monday closed six exchange firms and shops for not complying with its anti-speculation regulations, bringing the total number of outlets blacklisted since Saturday to 60.
The Aden-based bank vowed to crack down on more money traders if they did not abide by the bank’s monetary rules, warning others against dealing with the banned entities.
“The bank calls upon all exchange companies and establishments to exercise caution and abide by all instructions issued by the central bank,” it said in a statement. 
Despite the bank’s fresh punitive measures against violators, the Yemeni riyal reached a new record low against the US dollar, falling to nearly 1,400 riyals on the black market.
In the past, the Aden-based bank closed dozens of exchange companies and firms, ordered the other companies and private companies to send their annual financial statements to the bank and asked Sanaa-based banks to move operations to Aden.  
On Sunday, the Yemeni Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, supported the central bank’s latest measures to rein in the depreciation of the riyal and ordered judiciary and security authorities to implement the bank’s punishing measures.
The Yemeni government also suspended the internal transfer network between exchange companies — known as hawala — and ordered security forces to enhance border checks to prevent the smuggling of foreign currencies outside the country.
Aden Gov. Ahmed Hamed Lamlis on Sunday banned rent being paid with the US dollar or the Saudi riyal in another bid to curb the demand for foreign currencies. 
Despite the latest measures, blacklisted entities opened their doors on Monday as the riyal continued to hit new lows amid unprecedented speculative activities by money dealers. 
Critics questioned the government’s ability to reinforce the rules or to bring the chaotic market under its control, citing unfulfilled measures during the past five years when the Yemeni riyal began to tumble.
“The bank’s measures did not target currency barons who control the market and are heavily involved in speculation,” a local money trader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
People in the city of Al-Mukalla, the capital of the southeastern province of Hadramout, told Arab News that local exchange firms sell the dollar at 1,400 Yemeni riyal and buy it at 1,200 riyals.
The devaluation of the currency since last week has led to a historic rise in the prices of basic goods such as rice, cooking oil, wheat and flour, prompting shop owners to barricade their stores as violent protests sparked in some government-controlled areas.
“We are bearing the brunt of the devaluation as we buy our goods in Saudi riyals and sell them in Yemeni riyals. Big traders would not be impacted as they buy and sell goods in Saudi riyals,” a local trader, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News.
Roads were closed and tires were burnt in the southern province of Lahj amid protests against the fall of the riyal and skyrocketing prices. Last month, at least three people were killed and many others wounded during violent protests against the crumbling economy and currency in several cities in southern Yemen. 
Yemeni economists and sociologists have warned that the continuing fall of the riyal would fuel a new round of violence in the liberated provinces, widening the already big gap between the poor and rich and pushing thousands of Yemenis into hunger.
Mohamed Salem bin Jumaan, an associate professor of sociology at Hadramout University, said that the government and local authorities in the provinces must listen to people’s grievances and work on addressing economic woes — including the fall of the riyal — or risk more violent protests.
“Many families are below the poverty line. The middle class no longer exists. Solutions must be found to reduce the level of violence. People block roads and cause violence when they think no one listens to them,” the academic told Arab News.