UN envoy Bernardino Leon warned that Libya was “at the limit” and on the verge of economic collapse in a bleak but stern speech to the country’s warring factions at the opening of precursory peace talks in Algeria.
Addressing a room of politicians, activists and regional representatives, the Italian diplomat vowed on Wednesday that this would be last peace agreement drafted after five successive rounds of dialogue failed to finalize the document.
Wednesday’s meeting is meant to offer a space for both sides to battle out their differences in the draft proposal for a unity government before the final deal is sealed in talks starting Saturday in Morocco.
“What would be the relevance of draft [agreement] number 20 if the country does not exist anymore?… This should be the final draft because may be this is the final opportunity for Libya,” Leon said.
“The country is really at the limit.” he added.
Libya has descended into civil war just four years on from the NATO-backed uprising which ousted Muammar Gaddafi. Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist-leaning politicians and armed groups, swept control of Tripoli last summer and formed a new rival administration, forcing the elected parliament the House of Representatives to operate over 1500km to the east in Tobruk.
Forces loyal to both sides have been battling it out over strategic towns and oil fields across the country since then. After nearly a year of fighting the growing security vacuum has allowed a burgeoning insurgency to flourish and has left the economy in tatters.
Leon addressed both points in his Wednesday opening speech, warning attendees that the Central Bank of Libya could only continue to pay salaries for about another month,and that oil production had plummeted.
‘Even if the oil production recovers its normal, average production will not be able to sustain the budget deficit that Libya needs to have in order to sustain its public finances,” he said.
Libya, once considered a wealthy oil-rich nation, is now forced to beg food and medicine from neighboring countries – while the small amount of money available “is going to people who are killing each other,” Leon added.
In the middle of this the Islamic State has risen from the ashes of civil war.
IS – which first appeared in Libya in October when local groups pledged allegiance to its emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – has already conquered swathes of territory in the East, South and West. Last week it overran the central city of Sirte laying claim to a military airbase on the coast, just a few hours across the Mediterranean from Europe.
Leon urged both Libya Dawn and the Tobruk-based authorities to drop damaging and deeply polarized rhetoric that was only continuing the conflict and recognize the “paradox” that they were both fighting a common enemy: IS militants.
“Let me enhance the paradox that now, today, we have people in both camps fighting Daesh,” Leon said, using a derogatory Arabic acronym for the group.
“These two narratives… that Tobruk represents the previous regime and [that] Libya Dawn represents terrorist organizations, are clearly finished today…. There is only room for moderate Libya to agree on a unity government and on the main framework and agreement that will sustain this government,” he concluded.
Speaking the day before in Qatar, Leon said he believed three quarters of the political leaders in the war-torn country wanted to peace and most had agreed to his draft peace proposal.
“I think we will see an opportunity [for peace]… Most groups are now supporting a political solution.” he said.
But the latest draft, written after the last round of talks in Morocco in April, was rejected by Libya Dawn representatives, who told Libya Channel they wanted Leon and the entire UN team in Libya to resign.
The document is meant to outline a national unity government – anchored in Tripoli – that would serve for two years, to pull the country back from the abyss.
But the current version bases the formation of the joint body on recognizing the legitimacy of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, sparking uproar in Libya Dawn who claim a November court ruling found constitutional issues within the electoral law rendering the legislature null and void. It would also mean recognizing the Libyan army – headed by the HoR appointed General Khalifa Hiftar – a man Libya Dawn has labelled a criminal, after he launched a self-declared war last May on Benghazi’s Islamist armed groups and jihadis, currently allied with Dawn.
Libya Dawn had subsequently toyed with boycotting further dialogue but Abdul-Gader Al-Huewily, a representative of the Tripoli parliament, told Reuters his delegation would attend.
Outside of the UN-hosted negotiations there have been several local initiatives spearheaded by different groups across the country: efforts applauded by the UN.
They include prisoner swaps and peace deals between Misrata – the hometown of Libya Dawn – and Warshefana – a tribal town south-west of the capital that supports the interrnationally-recognized government. Last month a coalition of Libya Dawn armed groups signed a statement promising to join in the next round of talks and to help broker a ceasefire.
Meanwhile, after months of fierce fighting, the Tebu and Tuareg tribes in the southern city of Ubari declared on Tuesday they had brokered a ceasefire deal in meetings which were attended by General Khalifa Hiftar. But rocket attacks erupted again early Thursday morning, threatening to break that agreement.