By Michel Cousins.
Tunis, 9 November 2020:
The Libya Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), aimed at resolving the divisions and conflict that have plagued the country for the past six years, started its formal proceedings in Tunis today. Organised by the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and attended by of 75 prominent Libyan figures, including 13 each from the House of Representatives and the State Council, the LPDF is supposed to draw up plans for:
- Elections and the constitutional basis for them;
- The reunification of the country’s divided institutions;
- The appointment of a new interim three-member Presidency Council consisting of a president and two vice-presidents (one from each of the three historic regions of the country), and of a separate prime minister and government.
This is supposed to be done by 16 November although UNSMIL sources say that the discussions will continue “as long as it takes” if necessary. Delegates have pledged not to seek any office for themselves in the new administration, including its sovereign institutions.
The gathering is taking place at the Four Seasons hotel in the upmarket north Tunis suburb of Gammarth. On arrival, delegates were put into confinement for two days while other guests not involved in the event were moved to other hotels nearby. A number of Libyans activists with political interests had reportedly booked into the hotel, hoping to lobby delegates.
Even before arriving in Tunis last week, though, the delegates had been involved in discussions online. These continued until today’s start of formal face-to-face – but masked, proceedings.
Addressing the opening ceremony this morning, Tunisian President Kais Saeed said that a division of Libya and foreign domination of the Libyan people were unacceptable. Splitting Libya into an east and a west was dangerous, not just for the Libyan people but for the entire region, he declared. He said that the meeting would result in a new legitimacy, coming from the will of the Libyan people alone. He believed that they would be able to resolve their problems, “provided that no forces from outside intervene”.
At a press conference on Sunday evening in which she thanked the Tunisian authorities for their support for the meeting, UN acting special envoy Stephanie Williams pointed out that Libya was now facing the double challenge of “Covid colluding with conflict”. The LPDF was, she said, “the best opportunity for peace” since 2014. She expressed her confidence that the 75 delegates would be able to finally bring an end to Libya’s period of transition since the 2011 revolution, and that it would result in elections.
Insisting that the delegates represented all Libya’s various constituencies , she said that there was a “sense of responsibility” among them. “This is an opportunity they don’t want to lose.” She was sure that they would “rise to the responsibility placed upon them”.
She listed seven guiding principles to the talks: inclusivity, transparency, efficiency, pluralism, collegiality, patriotism, and no personal interests.
She noted too that there had already been significant progress on the economic, security and other tracks. Oil production was now close to 1 million b/d, the Civil Aviation Authority had authorised the resumption of flights to all airports in southern Libya, and the Joint Military Commission comprising of five top commanders from both sides was now united in a single body known as the Commission of Ten (C10). The ten commanders had a “sense of unity and responsibility” she stated.
Their decisions at the meeting in Ghadames last week are to be included into whatever is agreed by the LPDF in Tunis.
Significantly, at last night’s press conference, Williams also explained that the demilitarised zone in central Libya agreed by C10 would include Jufra as well as Sirte, although the headquarters for the C10 subcommittee responsible for ensuring the area’s stabilisation would be in the latter.
In her speech at the LPDF opening ceremony today, Williams continued in cautious upbeat mode, saying she finally saw “a glimmer of hope” in in the gathering and that is was a culmination of the work that began more than three years earlier by former special envoy Ghassan Salamé.
“You are united by your common bond to work wholeheartedly towards ending the current crisis, in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity.”
She said that the current situation could not continue. “The Libyan people are tired of fighting, instability and putting their lives on hold.” They wanted an end to the violence and for Libya to reunite again so they could enjoy decent lives again, she said. UNSMIL would be presenting a National Political Programme to the delegates for them to discuss and endorse. It was not a foreign devised programme but one that had come from listening to Libyans themselves and it would open the door to a new, legitimate political system.
There would be a new government to run the country until elections and it would oversee national reconciliation as well as combat corruption and rebuild public services. She added that its performance would be monitored and it would be held to account.
She did not say how that would be done or by whom.
There was sharp criticism of Libya’s political leaders since the revolution. Libyans, she said, had been “disappointed in the failure of previous efforts to solve the crisis, and they have been disappointed by the self-interested actions of some in the Libyan political class, who have failed to unite the country behind them”.
There could be no more delays, she insisted. However, there was a warning.
The LPDF would not resolve all of Libya’s problems, she said. “But if we fail to solve any of them, future resolution becomes impossible.”