UN Hosts Libya Peace Talks in Geneva

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Updated at 12:42 pm (GMT +2): The United Nations will host talks between Libya's warring factions on Wednesday in Geneva, amid warnings that they could be the last chance for peace in the battle-scarred nation.

The talks will be overseen by UN envoy to Libya and the UN chief's special representative Bernardino Leon. A press conference is scheduled on Wednesday afternoon before they start.

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.

"This is an opportunity the Libyans cannot afford to miss," the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on the eve of the talks.

"I want to praise both sides participating and encourage all those in Libya that have not yet decided on participation... to do so."

Thani says his beleaguered government needs the embargo to be lifted to fight the militias.

"The international community must cooperate with Libya to put an end to extremism and terrorism and help government institutions, namely the army, by lifting the arms embargo," Thani told AFP ahead of the talks.

The dialogue in Geneva aims at reaching an agreement on the formation of a unity government and the adoption of a new constitution — a tall order given the current situation.

After seizing Tripoli in August, Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) also took hold of 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.

Islamists, led by the UN-blacklisted Ansar al-Sharia, also control parts of second city Benghazi in the east and have been locked in battle with pro-government forces since May.

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.

In late 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.

'Wrong actors'

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

But only politicians have been invited, not the commanders of the warring armies, and analysts warned that without their participation the negotiations were unlikely to bring about an end to the fighting.

"The dialogue will fail because the UN has not chosen the right actors," political analyst Mohammed al-Ferjani said.

"The participants are politicians and have no presence or influence on the ground."

Libyan Dawn leaders have not been invited to Geneva, nor have representatives of the most powerful commander on the recognized government side, Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar, a former Gaddafi general, established a militia in eastern Libya that was initially disavowed by Thani before being embraced after his flight from the capital.

Haftar has led repeated offensives against Islamist militias in Libya's second city Benghazi since May, which have succeeded in wresting back control of large areas.

The heavy fighting for Benghazi, a city of about one million people, has killed hundreds of civilians, drawing repeated calls from the United Nations and Western governments for a ceasefire.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group that has 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.

Libya's neighbors, fearful of a spillover of the violence, have repeatedly called for international intervention.

The European Union said earlier that the Geneva meeting "represents a last chance which must be seized."

The conflict has driven at least 120,000 people from their homes and caused a humanitarian crisis, said a joint report by the UN human rights office and UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) that also documents shelling of civilian areas.

According to the report, an estimated 100 people have been killed in fighting between rival armed groups in Warshefana, near Tripoli, between late August and early October, and 170 have been killed in fighting in the Nafusa mountains to the southwest.

Meanwhile, some 450 people have been killed in Benghazi since fighting escalated in mid-October. Hospitals in the city have been hit or occupied by armed groups.

"Violations are continuing with impunity. There has been no effort to stop them," Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN human rights agency, told reporters in Geneva.

She warned that many of the abuses being committed across Libya "may amount to war crimes."

A new round of talks had been scheduled for December 9 but was repeatedly delayed as fighting intensified between the government and Islamist-backed militias.

Each faction claims its army is the country's real government and each seeks international recognition.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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