Talks to Resume as Need for External Support Seems Now Inevitable
Last Friday it was confirmed that UN-backed negotiations in Geneva will resume during the current week, after the vast majority of parties invited agreed to this. The GNC remains the only dissonant voice in this phase as it first announced that it would take part in negotiations if they were held inside Libya, and then pulled out altogether in response to Operation Dignity’s conquest of Benghazi’s branch of the Libyan Central Bank. UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon confirmed that political representatives from Libya’s main blocks will resume negotiations on Monday 26 January and will be joined by influential municipalities’ representatives on Wednesday 28 and armed militias on Friday 30 January. The main goals behind these talks remain those outlined in the past few weeks: the formation of a national unity government, the proclamation of a general ceasefire and the adoption of a new constitution.
Although ceasefires were unilaterally declared more than a week ago by all the major military players in the country, including Libya Dawn, Operation Shuruq and Operation Dignity, events occurred on the ground in the past few days confirmed once again that Libyan blocks are very heterogeneous in their compositions. In fact, several armed clashes and confrontations were registered throughout western Libya and the ‘Oil Crescent’ region in a clear indication that hardline groups are present within both blocks and are actively trying undermine the efforts of negotiators in Geneva. In light of this, it is worth asking how negotiations can ever be successful if several militias and armed groups remain adamantly unwilling to demobilize inside the country. The answer was provided by UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon in a very interesting interview with the Financial Times. Leon openly stated that the possibility of a peacekeeping, monitoring force being sent to Libya is currently being explored, as previously hinted by Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi.
“In this dialogue our main target is to address a unity government and second of all is stabilisation, which will require a ceasefire and weapons control,” he told the Financial Times this week in his first extensive print interview since taking over as special envoy in September. “So the UN will need to have monitors on all ports, airports and all country entrances. We will require a timetable from all militias to leave cities, airports and all vital facilities, and this will require international monitoring.”
Mr León, speaking from Tunisia, said he has already discussed the possibility of peacekeepers with officials from the US, UK, France and other countries. He said the presence of monitors would have to be supported by all sides in Libya. Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said this month that he would consider dispatching peacekeepers to Libya, a former Italian colony.
Even more worryingly, in the interview Leon openly confirms that in UNSMIL’s own assessment the operational capabilities and strength of radical Islamist groups akin to the Islamic State are growing significantly, not only in traditional hotspots throughout eastern Libya, but also in other parts of the country. This seems consistent with the growing number of reports describing ambushes and surprise attacks on army outposts in the southern part of the country and high profile attacks in Tripoli as well as with the recent announcement that Ansar al-Shari’a and other radical groups established a ‘Shoura Council of Revolutionaries’ in Beida, the base of al-Thinni’s government, following the blueprint of Benghazi’s and Derna’s shoura councils in a bid to fight Operation Dignity supporters present in the city and change its overall alliance in this crisis. In conclusion, the picture on the ground in Libya continues to be more complex than it is portrayed to be by most of the media, but will this be the week we finally see some definitive improvements and semplification at the political level at least?