Skip to main content

UN to hold Libya talks amid doubts over participation

General National Congress members are not expected to take part in the Geneva talks
GNC Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi will not be attending the UN-brokered talks in Geneva (AFP)

UN-brokered talks between warring Libyan factions are expected to take place in Geneva on Wednesday. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said the political dialogue will be aimed at ending “Libya’s deepening political and security crisis”.

“The talks will be guided by the principles of the 17 February Revolution and democratic values and human rights, respect for the Constitutional Declaration, respect for the legitimacy of state institutions – legislative, executive and the judiciary – and the rejection of terrorism,” a UNSMIL statement said.

The meeting will be overseen by UN envoy to Libya Bernadino Leon. Sitting and boycotting members of the House of Representatives (HoR) - Libya’s internationally recognised parliament - will attend. However, senior figures from rival body, the General National Congress (GNC), were listed as “to be confirmed” on UNSMIL’s website.

The GNC said on Sunday they would not be attending the talks while “civilians are being bombed in Misrata,” referring to recent strikes on the western city by forces allied with the HoR.

However, local news site Libya Herald reported on Tuesday that the Misrata municipal council had come out in favour of the Geneva dialogue, going against the GNC statement that said it would not attend.

The paper said the GNC statement had “resulted from pressure from the more Islamist elements within Libya Dawn." The Misrata declaration called on Libyans to reject “terrorism and extremism”.

Libya is in the midst of a brutal civil conflict, pitting rival tribes, cities and militias against each other in a war for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves. The HoR was elected in June 2014 and replaced the GNC, although the Supreme Court ruled the Tobruk-based parliament “unconstitutional” in September.

The GNC reconvened in the capital Tripoli in August after the Misratan Led Alliance (MLA) of Libya Dawn seized control. 

While the latest round of talks in Geneva are unlikely to include the key players from both sides, nullifying their potential impact, they do appear to have exposed a rift among Libya Dawn forces. 

“The Misrata declaration is the strongest indication so far of the growing rift within Libya Dawn between it and the Islamists,” the Libya Herald reported. 

The European Council for Foreign Relations policy fellow, Mattia Toaldo, said: 

“Bernardino Leon’s task today is a tall order because the warring parties seem to have lots of incentives to keep fighting and few reasons to strike a power-sharing agreement."

Libya’s last chance

Despite the bumps, the EU praised last week’s announcement of new talks in Geneva, describing them as a “last chance” for Libya to end its deepening crisis.

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said the dialogue offers “a crucial opportunity to bring key stakeholders together to find a peaceful solution based on dialogue.

“Libya is at a critical juncture; the different actors should be in no doubt of the gravity of the situation that the country finds itself in. The opportunity to establish a ceasefire and find a political solution should not be wasted.”

Oil production in Libya has plummeted from 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) prior to the 2011 revolution that removed former leader Muammar Gaddafi from power. With fighting increasingly focused on control of oil terminals, production is now down to around 300,000 bpd which has put a large dent in the country's finances as oil accounts for 95 percent of state revenue and 65 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Concerns for Libya’s future have raised the prospect of renewed intervention by the international community, following the NATO-led bombing campaign that aided the rebel victory in the 2011 revolution.

A Washington Post editorial published this week blamed Libya’s malaise not on the NATO intervention itself, but its “swift withdrawal and subsequent failure to assist in stabilising the country”.

The Post said further action beyond the talks in Geneva is required if Libya is to see an end to its civil conflict.

“Real progress toward ending the fighting would require more energetic action, such as diverting Libya’s oil revenues to an escrow account, enforcing an arms embargo, freezing the international assets of both sides and pressuring Egypt and other outside powers to cease their interventions,” it said, referring to reports the UAE and Egypt carried out airstrikes against Libya Dawn positions in August last year.

“Ultimately, an international peacekeeping force probably will be needed to help restore order.”

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.