Libyan fac­tions head to Italy to solve cri­sis

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

>> TRIPOLI: Libya’s key po­lit­i­cal play­ers are set to meet global lead­ers in Italy next week, in the lat­est bid by ma­jor pow­ers to kick­start a long-stalled po­lit­i­cal process and trig­ger elec­tions.

A sum­mit in Paris in May had seen the Tripoli-based Gov­ern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord (GNA) and eastern Libya strong­man Khal­ifa Haf­tar agree to hold na­tional polls on Dec 10.

But ac­knowl­edg­ing the chaotic po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion since dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi was de­posed in 2011, the UN on Thurs­day con­ceded elec­tions will not be vi­able be­fore at least the spring of 2019.

An­a­lysts say next week’s sum­mit in the Si­cil­ian city of Palermo risks be­ing com­pro­mised not only by ten­sions be­tween Libyan fac­tions, but also the com­pet­ing agen­das of for­eign pow­ers.

Just as in May, the key Libyan in­vi­tees are Haf­tar, the eastern par­lia­ment’s speaker Aguila Salah, GNA head Fayez al-Sar­raj and Khaled al-Mechri, speaker of a Tripoli-based up­per cham­ber.

Mr Sar­raj urged the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity on Thurs­day to find a “com­mon vi­sion” for the fu­ture of his chaos-hit North African na­tion.

The GNA says it will use the Palermo talks to lobby for se­cu­rity re­forms that unify the army, a con­sti­tu­tion­ally-rooted elec­toral process, eco­nomic re­form and an end to “par­al­lel in­sti­tu­tions”.

The US, Arab coun­tries and Eu­ro­pean na­tions will all send rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the talks set to take place to­mor­row and on Tues­day.

For Rome’s pop­ulist gov­ern­ment, a top pri­or­ity is stem­ming the flow of mi­grants who ex­ploit Libya’s se­cu­rity vac­uum in their quest to reach Eu­ro­pean shores, of­ten via Italy. “The Palermo con­fer­ence is a fun­da­men­tal step in the goal of sta­bil­is­ing Libya and for the se­cu­rity of the en­tire Mediter­ranean”, Italy’s Prime Min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte said this week.

UN en­voy Ghas­san Salame told the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Thurs­day that a na­tional con­fer­ence in early 2019 would be or­gan­ised to pro­vide “a plat­form” for Libyans to spell out their vi­sion for the fu­ture. But diplo­matic wran­gling be­tween Italy and France hangs over next week’s sum­mit.

In Septem­ber, Italy’s de­fence min­is­ter and par­lia­men­tary speaker both partly blamed France for Libya’s se­cu­rity cri­sis, which con­tin­ues to sim­mer some seven years af­ter the Nato-backed up­ris­ing top­pled Gad­hafi.

The Ital­ian swipes came as Tripoli was plagued by mili­tia clashes that killed at least 117 peo­ple and wounded more than 400 be­tween late Au­gust and late Septem­ber. Rome and Paris have for months been at log­ger­heads over Libya’s elec­tion timetable. While France re­peat­edly en­dorsed the De­cem­ber date, Italy op­posed it.

Rome and Paris have “many in­ter­ests in com­mon” in Libya in­clud­ing en­ergy, im­mi­gra­tion and ter­ror­ism, said Fed­er­ica Saini Fasan­otti at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. But they have “dif­fer­ent ideas in how to reach their tar­gets”, she added.

Italy has not been alone in push­ing for elec­tions to be de­layed — the Dec 10 date was also viewed scep­ti­cally by Wash­ing­ton and Moscow.

“We sup­port elec­tions as soon as pos­si­ble, but ar­ti­fi­cial dead­lines and a rushed process would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive,” David Hale, the num­ber three at the US State De­part­ment, told the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton on Thurs­day.

One Ital­ian diplo­matic source said that no de­fin­i­tive poll date should be set next week and it is “not sure that there will be a fi­nal doc­u­ment” af­ter the talks. For Libyan an­a­lyst Emad Badi, ri­valry be­tween Paris and Rome has only fur­ther po­larised the po­lit­i­cal scene.

The Palermo con­fer­ence “cer­tainly seems to be or­ches­trated as a coun­ter­weight to the French con­fer­ence (rather) than ... fo­cus­ing on gen­uinely solv­ing the Libyan po­lit­i­cal deadlock,” Mr Badi con­tended.

Some ex­perts also say ri­val­ries be­tween Arab pow­ers com­pli­cate Libya’s cri­sis.

For Clau­dia Gazz­ini, a Libya spe­cial­ist for the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group, a so­lu­tion re­quires bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion and not just be­tween France and Italy.

“What needs to hap­pen is a join­ing hands also of Rus­sian and US po­si­tions” with the UAE, Qatar, Turkey and Egypt, Ms Gazz­ini said.

SET FOR ROUND 2 TALKS: Khal­ifa Haf­tar, cen­tre, the mil­i­tary com­man­der who dom­i­nates eastern Libya, at­tends an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on Libya in Paris in May.

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