Patrick Wintour

Message comes ahead of major UN meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin on Wednesday.

The EU has warned that anyone judged to be delaying elections in Libya beyond the planned date of 24 December will be at risk of sanctions, ahead of an important meeting of foreign ministers intended to tighten the screw on those obstructing either elections or the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

The meeting in Berlin will set our proposals for a coordinated and sequential withdrawal of foreign forces, principally Russian and Turkish, and again call for elections at the end of the year.

Previous deadlines for the withdrawal of foreign forces have been ignored.

The United Nations has also set in train plans for a meeting in Geneva next week of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to agree the basis for the elections.

Some in Libya’s current parliament have been blocking elections, or demanding a referendum on any new Libyan constitution before the elections, now seen by most European powers as a delaying tactic.

The Berlin conference will be attended by the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and is a follow-up of a meeting in December 2020 that out set a detailed roadmap for Libya to take the country towards democracy and end 10 years of civil war.

A new government of national unity spanning the east and west of the country, was established in February, but an array of political actors since have paid lip service to holding elections in December while privately seeking a delay.

Many in the current political class, described as Libya’s oligarchs by their critics, fear the loss of power, and cash, any elections would entail.

The conference has been called on to do more to protect human rights in the country and to hold to account those breaching the UN arms embargo, including some countries that attended the first conference, by the group Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

It also warned rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association needed to be protected for free elections to take place.

The existing parliament, the House of Representatives whose mandate rests on an election held in 2014 has been a source of delay, even though its speaker Aguila Saleh insists the elections are the prerequisite for national reconciliation.

The parliament was ordered by the UN to agree to the constitutional basis for elections and adopt the necessary electoral legislation by 1 July, allowing the country’s High National Elections Commission enough time to prepare ahead of voting.

But instead Libya has slowly fallen into a constitutional quagmire with disagreements about the constitution that would control any directly elected president.

The former interior minister Fathi Bashaga is favourite to win elections, but there are rumours that Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, would also stand.

In a sign that international pressure can have some effect on Libyan rivals, a military committee from east and west on Sunday finally agreed on terms for the reopening of a coastal road between Sirte and Misrata.

The blockade on the road at Sirte in place since April 2019 had in effect become a military frontline between the two sides, and has slowed the spread of a ceasefire agreed last October.

But the reopening agreements lasts 15 days and may be a device for all sides to get past the hurdle of the Berlin conference without facing sanctions.

The current interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah claimed the opening of the road was a historic day and personally drove a bulldozer through some of the mounds blocking the road.

Many doubt the current government wants to stand aside in December, and Dbeibah has been trying to appease all factions by offering jobs and salaries.

No parallel progress has been made on the removal of foreign mercenaries from Libya including the Russian-backed Wagner Group, the Turkish government-backed mercenaries and Turkish official forces.

A phased timetable for withdrawal has been proposed, but requires cooperation from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

Turkey claims its forces were invited to Libya by the previous UN-recognised government.

As a result of the initial invitation, Turkey says it is under no legal or moral obligation to leave, even though the current foreign minister Najla Mangoush has repeatedly called on all foreign forces to leave the country.

Some argue elections ahead of the removal of militia will be impossible since intimidation and fraud will be widespread.

Mangoush is due to present a stability Initiative at the Berlin conference.

Exports from Turkey to Libya have risen 50% in the first four months of 2021, and Libya, oil rich but hugely underdeveloped because of the political chaos, represents a potential bonanza for any country looking to invest.


Patrick Wintour – Diplomatic editor



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