Deadly clashes in Tripoli have stepped up pressure on Libya’s unity government to end its reliance on militias and to implement economic reforms.
Armed groups in Tripoli have infiltrated both political and military institutions.
After a month of militia clashes that left more than 100 people dead, Libya’s UN-backed foreign minister on Friday called for the country’s UN political mission to transform into a “security and stability” support role.
Mohamed Siala, foreign minister of the UN-backed Libyan unity government, did not specify if he had in mind a UN peacekeeping mission.
“Priority must be given to security, to stability,” he told the United Nations General Assembly.
“We call for conversion of UNSMIL, which is a special political mission, into a mission of support for Libya’s security and stability,” he said without providing further detail.
The United Nations Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL), led by Ghassan Salame, was set up in 2011 to assist the country’s new authorities after the NATO-backed revolution which ousted Kadhafi.
UNSMIL has focused on fostering political dialogue to help the North African country’s transition to democracy.
Under a UN-brokered agreement, the unity government was set up in Tripoli but it is not recognized by a rival administration supported by military strongman Khalifa Haftar in Libya’s east.
Tripoli itself has been at the center of a battle for influence between armed groups with shifting allegiances. A month of clashes left more than 100 dead south of the city before the unity government on Wednesday announced a ceasefire deal between rival militias.
Siala welcomed the efforts of UNSMIL which he said enabled the conclusion of the ceasefire.
“We ask concerned parties to respect it. National and international legal bodies will pursue the authors of these tragic attacks,” he said.
Hands of the state
The deadly clashes in Tripoli which displaced more than 25,000 residents of the city has stepped up pressure on Libya’s unity government to end its reliance on militias and to implement economic reforms.
Salame stressed this week as a ceasefire came into effect that “security cannot remain in the grips of the armed groups but must be in the hands of the state”.
“It was the first time that the pro-GNA militias have been described (by the UN) as undesirable and need dismantling,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a specialist on Libya at Paris 8 University, referring to the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord.
The GNA was set up under a UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 that raised hopes of an easing of the chaos that followed the 2011 NATO-backed revolution which ousted Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
But a rival administration based in the country’s east and supported by military strongman Khalifa Haftar refuses to recognise the GNA’s authority.
In exchange for their military support, armed groups in the capital have infiltrated both political and military institutions in Tripoli.
After the latest clashes, calm returned to Tripoli on Tuesday following a battle using heavy weapons that killed at least 117 people and injured more than 400 others, according to official figures.
At the end of August, militias from western Libya entered the capital, sparking the showdown with local groups.
Under the ceasefire terms, the GNA has committed itself to sever links between state institutions and armed groups.
That is a tall order.
“These groups were intelligent enough to penetrate the capital’s police and economic institutions… The GNA works with them, depends on them, relies on them,” said Harchaoui.
The GNA has set itself the target of eliminating “dysfunctions” in the economy and banking sector that are exploited by militias as sources of enrichment.
The main aims are to narrow the gap between the official foreign currency exchange rate and the market rate, and to lift state subsidies on fuel in the oil-rich country that open the door to traffickers.
At the official rate, the US dollar trades at 1.4 Libyan dinars, but because of Libya’s cash-starved banking sector, the black market rate is four or five times higher.
The wide discrepancy encourages corruption.
Armed groups with access to dollars at the official rate can make huge profits by then selling the hard currency on the black market.
In a move which amounts to a devaluation, the unity government has imposed a 183 percent “tax” on the sale of foreign currencies.
As a result, the dollar, when it is available in banks, is sold at the official rate of 3.9 dinars.
But Kamal al-Mansouri, a Libyan economy expert, said the impact would be limited so long as the GNA and the eastern authority each run their own central bank.
All parallel authorities must be abolished, he said.
Ismail al-Sherif, a deputy in Libya’s elected parliament based in the east, said that for economic measures to take effect they would have to be accompanied by political and security reforms.
“There’ll be no success at the economic level so long as tensions persist and if weapons remain in the hands of armed factions,” he said.
Sherif said the way forward was a “restructuring” of the GNA, a delicate process of UN-brokered negotiations between the GNA and its rivals in eastern Libya.