By Edith Lederer
Conflict-wracked Libya is caught in a destructive cycle “fueled by personal ambition and the nation’s stolen wealth” — and the way forward begins with a National Conference in early 2019, the U.N. envoy said Thursday.
Despite a binding commitment, Ghassan Salame said the House of Representatives has failed to produce legislation to amend the constitution and hold presidential and parliamentary elections which were supposed to take place this year. He accused lawmakers of using delaying tactics to waste time.
“To both houses, elections are a threat that must be resisted at all costs, but to the citizens, elections are a means of liberation from the ineffective and increasingly illegitimate authorities,” Salame told the Security Council. “According to our latest poll, which I received this morning, 80 percent of Libyans insist on having elections.”
The U.N. special envoy said the time has come for a wider group of Libyans to meet “to devise a clean path out of the present impasse, reinforced by a clear timetable.” And he said he backs plans by this more representative group of Libyans to move forward with a National Conference in the first weeks of 2019.
“The subsequent electoral process should commence in the spring of 2019,” Salame added.
Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west.
It has also become a haven for armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking.
Salame said the U.N. is now aiming to consolidate a cease-fire in Tripoli that it brokered in September “on the ground and at a political level.”
“The violence in September reflects the underlying fragility in the country,” he said. “The Libyan conflict is in large part a conflict over resources, and until this is resolved, stability will remain elusive.”
Libya is a major oil producer, with production reaching up to 1.3 million barrels a day, providing the country of 6.5 million people revenues of over $13 billion in the first half of 2018, Salame said.
“However, these figures obfuscate the truth: Libyans have been increasingly impoverished while criminals employ violence and patronage networks to steal billions from the national coffers,” he said.
Ironically, Salame said, the violence in Tripoli provided an opportunity to introduce long-needed economic reforms on Sept. 12, including the imposition of fees on foreign currency transactions which caused an almost 25 percent drop in the black-market exchange rate.
This has dropped prices for basic goods such as sugar, bread, school supplies and second-hand cars, he said, and the liquidity crisis is shrinking and lines outside banks are shrinking.
Salame said there is now “a window of opportunity to address the tremendous challenges Libyan security institutions have faced since 2011,” and he urged participants at the upcoming conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy “to offer tangible support to the training of professional security forces.”
The U.N. envoy also called for contributions “to unify and restructure a professional, national army.” And he said the conference can also provide practical support “to establish a system for redistribution of national wealth, not to the benefit of overnight millionaires, but for the whole population.”
Salame also warned the Security Council that the situation in southern Libya “is becoming even more precarious” with “rising criminality and terrorism, rampant lawlessness,” and “threats to the oil fields and the water infrastructure upon which the nation relies.”
He urged U.N. member states to support Libyan authorities to address the threat from the presence of al-Qaida and Islamic State extremists and other terrorist groups across the south of Libya.