Sunday 17 December 2017

Divided Libya closer to national unity government

United Nations envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon announces the breakthrough (AP)
United Nations envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon announces the breakthrough (AP)

Libya is a step closer to forming a national unity government after months of difficult talks between the country's two rival administrations.

The north African country's United Nations envoy Bernardino Leon said candidates for the new government had been decided - but now it is up to the two sides and Libyans themselves to approve it.

The plan is aimed at stitching together the oil-rich but chaotic country that fell apart after the overthrow of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country has been split between an Islamist-backed government based in Tripoli and an internationally-recognised administration in the east.

It was not immediately clear whether both camps were fully behind the list of candidates, especially as the Tripoli-based government is itself divided between hardliners and a more conciliatory faction.

Speaking in Morocco, Mr Leon said the prime minister for the new government would be Fayez Sarraj, a Tripoli representative in the internationally recognised Tobruk House of Representatives.

"We believe this list can work," Mr Leon said of the candidates, who include three deputies for the prime minister - representing the country's east, west and south - and two ministers to complete a presidential council.

"All of them will work as a team. This was not an easy task."

Mussa al-Kouni, one of the proposed deputy prime ministers, said: "The hardest part has just begun."

Naima Jibril, a judge and member of the Libyan National Dialogue Commission, praised the inclusion of two women ministers in the list. "Libyan women are capable of playing successful roles in future government," she said.

Mr Leon had expected to announce the government on Wednesday, the latest in a series of dates the UN and the international community had been pushing the rival governments to meet in recent months.

At a top-level UN meeting l ast week, US secretary of state John Kerry, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and others urged the governments to act quickly and reach a deal, warning that the instability in the country was giving room for extremist groups like the Islamic State (IS) to expand.

In addition, Libya's chaos has opened the door to a surge of migrants and refugees who set off from its coast in often rickety boats operated by smugglers. Many have died on the journey.

The peace talks have been fragile. On Monday, the internationally-recognised government voted to extend its mandate past the October 20 deadline that was part of a political road map sketched out after Gaddafi was overthrown, signalling a lack of confidence in the UN's efforts.

A new unity government has multiple challenges, including an economy near collapse, a number of active militia groups and severe need for basic assistance.

The UN says an estimated 2.44 million people in Libya - nearly 40% of the country's population - are in need of protection and some form of humanitarian aid.

British ambassador to Libya Peter Millet said: "I think there is no better chance and there is no alternative to this approach and to this sort of government, which tries to balance a lot of different interests.

"So I appeal again to the Libyan people to get behind it and give it the best possible chance for success."

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon praised the participants in the dialogue for reaching a final text of a political agreement and welcomed the proposal of nominees for the Presidency Council, his spokesman said.

"After months of turmoil and uncertainty, the secretary general urges Libyan leaders not to squander this opportunity to put the country back on the path to building a state that reflects the spirit and ambitions of the 2011 revolution," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

"Now is the time for the parties to the political dialogue to endorse this proposal and sign the agreement without delay."

Press Association

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