The European Union is considering sanctions against leading figures on both sides of the Libyan conflict for blocking the formation of the unity government that the international community hopes will end an 18-month civil war.
The 28-nation block has repeatedly warned it would impose sanctions against anyone “spoiling” the United Nations brokered peace process, amid growing concerns the so-called Islamic State was using Libya as a springboard to attack Europe.
Sources told AFP that the EU could impose an asset freeze and travel ban against Nuri Busahmain, head of the rival Tripoli-based legislature the General National Congress and its premier Khalifa al-Ghwell.
In addition Aguila Saleh, who heads the internationally-recognised parliament – the House of Representatives – in Tobruk, could also be hit with sanctions.
“There should be a political agreement (on sanctions) in the next few days,” the source told AFP.
“[The aim is to] target the spoilers, those who undermine efforts to establish a national unity government which is essential to stabilising Libya and giving the EU someone it can talk to about security issues, especially combatting Daesh (IS).”
Other diplomatic sources confirmed the issue was being discussed but one suggested there was also some reluctance to adopt sanctions at this stage without UN backing.
It comes after the HoR rejected the 32-ministry unity government earlier this week for being too unwieldily. The cabinet, according to a UN-brokered peace deal signed by both warring factions in December, has to be approved by the HoR to operate. Lawmakers at the session – which saw 89 out of 104 MPs vote against the it – said many feared such a large body would ineffective and too costly.
The MPs also ruled against Article 8 of the peace deal, which gives the cabinet the power to approve top security and military appointments, effectively rejecting the agreement too. Many complained it could see the divisive but popular army chief General Khalifa Haftar removed from office.
The HoR demanded a new smaller unity government be put together within 10 days and Article 8 be removed from the peace agreement.
But the peace deal could be further complicated by these threats of sanctions by the EU. Just a few days before the December peace deal was signed, in an unprecedented move, the two rivals Saleh and Busahmain met in Malta to reject the document which they claimed was pushed through by the UN.
“There is no doubt that we need help from the international community, but we reject any pressure from outside. No one can pressure me or change my mind,” Saleh said.
This meeting and rejection of the UN peace process could be what led them to be put on a potential sanctions list.
Many fear the UN peace efforts have effectively collapsed but on Wednesday UN Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler said that changes to a peace deal are possible.
In a press conference, Martin Kobler said there was a “mechanism” within the Libya Political Agreement for amendments to be made, in apparent contradiction to earlier warnings against making changes to a deal that capped months of difficult negotiations.
Libya has been torn in two since the summer of 2014 when armed coalition Libya Dawn swept control of Tripoli and resurrected the GNC, forming a rival parliament and legislature.
The then newly-elected HoR was forced to operate in the eastern city of Tobruk, where it has struggled to run the country and quash the expansion of jihadist groups like IS.