Libya Dialogue attendees in Tunis clash over unified military command

Libya Channel

Representatives of Libya’s warring factions met in Tunis early this week in a session hosted by UNSMIL to battle out ways to implement the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) and to try to solve the country’s financial and security crisis.

The UN-authored peace deal, which was signed by warring representatives in Morocco in December, outlined the formation of the Government of National Accord (GNA) and its Presidency Council (PC). Seven months later it has yet to be fully implemented as the parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR), has failed to endorse the joint body, amid deepening divisions between factions largely anchored in the east and west of the country.

The meetings, which were attended by unity government Prime Minister Faiez Serraj and his Presidency Council, in addition to the dialogue members, discussed ways to successfully ensure a single government and army.

During key talks, which took place on 18 and 19 July, attendees discussed the implementation of interim security arrangements and ways to improve security particularly in Tripoli.

The focus was on the creation of a nine-member Defense Board, that could be headed up by General Khalifa Haftar but would include leaders from Libya’s many armed brigades.

It would see Haftar, who is backed by the parliament but who rejects the GNA, join forces with brigades he has declared his sworn enemies and who are allied to armed groups he is fighting in Benghazi.

According to this proposal the Presidency Council would maintain its prerogative of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, a position the HoR also claims for itself. Sources at the meeting said that the Defense Board would also be charged with appointing the army’s chief of staff.

“The only way out is a united Libyan army with a command structure respecting the Presidency Council as Supreme Commander of the Army,” Kobler said at the start of the meeting. “A united country cannot have several armies, “ he added.

However Haftar, who commands what is recognised by the parliament as the national army, rejected the idea, lawmakers close to him told Libya Channel after the talks.

“Haftar thinks that the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces should remain with the Parliament to avoid complications,“ said MP Tareq al-Jarushi, the son of Haftar’s right hand man and air force commander Sagr al-Jarushi.

“He rejects the idea of a military council with officers of different backgrounds including undisciplined militias.

“Moreover the Tunis Talks security roundtable did not include any representatives of the legitimate army leadership,” he added, calling the plan “damaging and divisive”.

A few days before the group met to discuss other pressing issues including the crisis of basic services, electricity, cash flow and opening all closed roads to ensure improved security situation in all parts of the country.

During the session held on 17 July, PM Serraj highlighted the challenges facing the unity government in terms of services and finances, while addressing the resumption of oil exports and solving the electricity crisis.

In a press conference after the talks, he urged dialogue members to bring on board those “obstructing the dialogue.”

Independent dialogue member Fathi Bashagha told Libya Channel the dialogue team largely supported the Presidency Council provided it was more successful in resolving some of the major economic issues hitting the country.

“The PC must also move ahead with its work and fill vacant minister positions. It must also move fast to restart oil exports,” he told.

He urged the parliament to support and implement the political agreement.

“Right now the House of Representatives is disabling the peace agreement,” he added.

His comments echoed the main conclusions drawn by the political dialogue which called on the boycotting members of the Presidency Council to resume their duties immediately and urged the parliament to fulfil its obligations set out in the political agreement, UNSMIL reported.

The UN added that they will convene again a few weeks.

Several attendees voiced their fears that the unity government had failed to resolves several issues facing Libya despite being in power since March.

“The fact that the Presidential Council has not been able to solve the crises in its first 100 days is not reassuring,“ said Mohamed Abdallah, an independent dialogue member.

“If it keeps underperforming the Dialogue will be forced to reconsider [its support],” he added.

His points were echoed by fellow independent attendee Nuri al-Abbar.

“We support the PC but our support is tied to it fulfilling the tasks it has been entrusted with,” he said.

There was also criticism back in Libya by MPs in Tobruk who said the dialogue team was not representative.

“Those who attended the Tunis Talks did not represent anyone but themselves; the HoR has formed a new dialogue team,” said Zaid Hadiya, an HoR MP said.

“The parliament was fully absent from the Tunis Talks. [UN envoy] Kobler is determined to implement the project and refused to work with the HoR’s new dialogue team.

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