By Patrick Wintour

Political process is being sabotaged by those who believe conflict is only option, says UN special envoy.

Failure to hold a national reconciliation conference in Libya could open the path to those who want a military solution to the country’s divisions, Ghassan Salamé, the UN special envoy has warned.

The conference, which was due to be held this month, is intended to be a precursor to presidential and parliamentary elections this spring designed to end the splits that have paralysed the country ever since the ousting and killing of Gaddafi in 2011.

Speaking to the UN security council, Salamé refused to set a date or venue for the conference, instead saying he was working night and day in the hope of it being staged “in the coming weeks”.

With fighting still dogging the country and political divisions entrenched, Salamé said it was vital that the conference was held “in the right conditions, with the right people”.

But he warned: “There will be those who seek to undermine the national conference and its outcomes, particularly individuals who hope to delay elections so they can remain in their seats.

Without the concerted support of the international community, spoilers will sabotage the political process and undo any advancement. If this were to be allowed, Libya’s progress would be set back years and almost certainly open the doors to those who believe only there is a martial solution to Libya’s wounds.”

The chance of holding the national conference has been set back by the breakdown of a four-month-old ceasefire in the capital of Tripoli and political infighting between key institutions, notably the house of representatives and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Renewed clashes between armed militias around Tripoli have seen 10 killed and more than 40 injured. There are also divisions growing within the UN-recognised GNA that may be fuelling some of the Tripoli fighting.

Salamé said: “We can fight fires, but eventually there will be an inferno that cannot be extinguished, so we must go beyond and tackle the underlying dysfunctionalities of the Libyan state. The political deadlock has been underpinned by a complex web of narrow interests, a broken legal framework and the pillaging of Libya’s great wealth.”

Salamé has been reluctant to identify those he believes are holding the country back, but the UN has already imposed sanctions on some militia leaders.

Libya, like many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, suffers from external actors interfering in order to fuel violence or jockey for influence.

In the impoverished and largely lawless south-west, Marshal Khalifa Haftar has launched a military campaign that his spokesman claims is trying to stabilise the major oilfield and defeat forces being supplied by Turkey and Qatar.

In an attempt to balance the gloom of the political section of his report, Salamé said he also had green shoots, including the appointment of new ministers, stabilisation of the currency, a fall in commodity prices by as much as 40%, an end to queues to access funds from banks, an increase in oil production to more than 1m barrels a day, transfer of control of prisons from private groups and the launch of a greater Tripoli security plan.

But he admitted that much of law enforcement remained in the hands of armed groups instead of professional security officials. He also made no mention of reports that a 2019 budget for the Libyan government had yet to be agreed due to disputes about spending priorities between the central bank and the government.


Patrick Wintour – Diplomatic editor


The Guardian


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