Libya’s new unity government courts foreign powers for reconstruction

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Posted – 28th March 2021

A surge of high-profile diplomatic visits to Libya’s new unity government have begun, with foreign powers keen to signal support for the fledgling administration.

The Government of National Unity, installed earlier this month, is the country’s first united government since civil war broke out in 2014.

States are underlining their support in the most visible way possible.

A trio of EU foreign ministers arrived in Tripoli this week, while the head of Libya’s new presidential council, Mohamed Al Menfi, travelled to Cairo and Ankara for talks on pushing the peace process forward.

In Tripoli, French, German and Italian foreign ministers on Friday met Najla Al Mangoush, Libya’s first female foreign minister.

Germany hosted the peace conference in Berlin last year that laid the foundations for the unity government. Italy is offering training for coastguard units.

France will reopen its embassy in Tripoli on Monday. As did most countries, Paris evacuated its embassy there when the civil war broke out six years ago.

Ms Al Mangoush said her priority was the removal of foreign forces from Libya in light of the UN Security Council report this month that stated about 20,000 foreign troops were in the country.

“We demand that all mercenaries leave the Libyan lands immediately,” Ms Al Mangoush said after the meeting.

Her call was backed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“This [foreign forces withdrawal] is indispensable so that Libya can regain its security,” he said.

“By fulfilling these conditions, Libya can finally turn the page after so many years of a crisis that has divided the country.”

The EU also lifted sanctions on Friday on Khalifa Ghwell, prime minister of a former rival Libyan government — the General National Congress — who had been accused by European officials of blocking the peace process.

The move follows the removal from the sanctions list of Parliament speaker Agila Saleh last October, again after Mr Saleh confirmed support for the peace process.

Meanwhile, the head of the new presidential council, Mohamed Al Menfi, has begun a whistle-stop tour of key powers, and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged their co-operation.

Mr El Sisi said his talks with his western neighbour were extensive, covering “political, economic and development fields.”

The Ankara and Cairo visits are a reminder that Libya needs more than a ceasefire: It also needs substantial foreign help to rebuild.

Six years of war have pushed the economy close to collapse. Protests erupted across the country in the past few months prompted by shortages of power, water, gasoline and even banknotes.

There are no reliable estimates for the number killed in the war, while the UN says 1.3 million of Libya’s 6.6 million population need humanitarian aid.

Parts of Tripoli and the centre of Benghazi, Libya’s second city, have been reduced to ruins by fighting and need major renovation.

Welcoming the spate of diplomatic support, the UN’s Libya envoy Jan Kubis told the UN Security Council the new government represents a “historic milestone”.

Mr Kubis also urged compliance with the ceasefire, which has mostly held since being signed in October. He said rival armies continue to reinforce positions on the front line near the coastal town of Sirte.

“While the ceasefire agreement continues to hold, there are reports of ongoing fortifications,” he said.

Mr Kubis said on Friday that the GNU needed to move swiftly to fix basic services.

“Over four million people, including 1.5 million children, may face being denied clean water and sanitation if immediate solutions are not found.”

Ceasefire holds for now

Translating the current ceasefire into a lasting peace is the toughest nut for the new government to crack.

Along the Sirte front line, the Libyan National Army of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar faces off against units of the former Tripoli administration, the Government of National Accord.

These armies, along with their allied foreign forces, are reluctant to step down unless they see the other side doing the same.

But small steps are being made. Military barriers are set to be removed along the coastal highway, Libya’s key east-west road.

Flights between Tripoli and Benghazi have resumed. Meanwhile, in Geneva, the UN-chaired Joint Military Commission, made up of officials from both sides, is negotiating phased troop withdrawals, and the UN is considering deploying ceasefire monitors.

But tension remains. A prominent former LNA commander, Mahmoud Al Werfalli, was killed in Benghazi last week. The International Criminal Court had accused him of war crimes.

The circumstances of his killing, by unidentified gunmen, are still being investigated, but illustrate the challenge of ending the instability resulting from six years of war.

THE NATIONAL – John Pearson

 

The Libya Consultancy does not imply any association with, nor endorsement by or of the publisher of this article

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