Libyan Factions Agree to Unity Government Roadmap After Geneva Talks

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Published Friday, January 16, 2015

Libya's warring factions agreed on a roadmap to form a unity government after two days of UN-brokered talks in Geneva, touted as the last chance to avert total anarchy in the country.

UN special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon had warned at the start of the talks that they were a last-ditch effort to prevent all-out chaos.

"The participants agreed after extensive deliberation on an agenda that includes reaching a political agreement to form a consensual national unity government and the necessary security arrangements to end the fighting," a UN statement said.

It said the talks "were constructive and conducted in a positive atmosphere, and reflected the participants' sincere commitment to reach common ground."

The participants called on all the players to cease hostilities to create a conducive environment for the dialogue and "expressed their unequivocal commitment to a united and democratic Libya governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights."

They agreed to work towards the release of abducted people, providing and allowing humanitarian aid to reach affected regions, opening airports and securing land and maritime navigation.

The delegates will return to Geneva for a fresh round of talks next week after consultations.

The confirmed participants, however, include supporters of the recognized government and some backers of the rival Tripoli administration.

Analysts warned that without the participation of the commanders of the warring armies — including Islamist-backed militia alliance Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) leaders and General Khalifa Haftar, who leads an anti-Islamist alliance — the negotiations were unlikely to bring about an end to the fighting.

"The participants are politicians and have no presence or influence on the ground,” political analyst Mohammed al-Ferjani said, adding, "the dialogue will fail because the UN has not chosen the right actors."

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory, especially oil sites, across the North African state.

Vying for legislative authority are the newly-elected House of Representatives, the internationally recognized government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, which convenes in Tobruk, and the Islamist administration, which continues to convene in Tripoli.

Western powers, who backed the military uprising against Gaddafi in Libya, fear that extremists who they armed and trained during the uprising are seeking to exploit a power vacuum in the oil-producing nation.

Fighting in Libya has displaced tens of thousands since the summer and disrupted medical and health services. Conflict has caused frequent fuel, power and water shortages, increased food prices and damaged infrastructure.

As news of the agreement came, the UN refugee agency said an upsurge in fighting since the start of this year across several towns in the east, including the second city of Benghazi, sparked more displacements.

"In Benghazi alone, the local council is reporting that around 90,000 people are unable to return home," it said, adding that number of people displaced nationwide was approximately 400,000.

In October, Hadi Sahraoui, deputy director for Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program, accused both sides of the Libyan conflict of committing war crimes, saying, "in today's Libya, the rule of the gun has taken hold."

"Armed groups and militias are running amok, launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas and committing widespread abuses, including war crimes, with complete impunity," he added.

'Peaceful transfer of power'

The broad agreement cobbled together in Geneva also saw the factions pledge to work towards ensuring the free movement of people across the divided nation.

They also vowed to respect the legitimacy of state institutions, work towards the peaceful transfer of power and reject violence.

The agreement came after months of UN efforts to get the opposing sides back to the negotiating table after a single round of talks in September.

A major concern in Libya is the proliferation of Islamist militias in key areas such as the second city of Benghazi.

Islamists led Ansar al-Sharia, a group blacklisted by the United Nations for its links to Al-Qaeda, control parts of second city Benghazi in the east and have been locked in battle with pro-government forces since May.

Libya's internationally recognized government decamped last summer to the eastern city of Tobruk after Libyan Dawn seized the capital Tripoli and set up its own administration.

Libyan Dawn also holds the third city, Misrata. It launched a bloody offensive in December to seize control of key oil terminals but was repelled by the army.

Most countries pulled out their diplomats from Tripoli after the city was taken by Libyan Dawn.

Leon had also underscored the threat of Libya becoming a hotbed of Islamist insurgency, saying it menaced North Africa, the Middle East, the Sahel and Europe, which lies on Libya's doorstep.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group that seized large areas in Iraq and Syria is also thought to have gained a foothold in eastern Libya, and recently claimed to have executed two Tunisian journalists there.

Jihadists are reported to have set up camps in Libya, including in the remote southern desert, to train militants to fight in Mali, Iraq or Syria.

The head of Libya's recognized government has pleaded for more international help in combating militias by lifting an arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council at the start of the anti-Gaddafi uprising in 2011.

"In Libya, the government and armed forces are battling these groups alone, without any support from the international community," Thani told AFP in an interview just before the Geneva talks.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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