Libya’s rival prime ministers may hold direct talks to resolve a political crisis in the OPEC member, a United Nations envoy said, as militias massing around the capital raise fears of a new wave of violence.
There’s been “positive feedback from the two,” Stephanie Williams, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser for Libya, said when asked if parliament-picked premier Fathi Bashagha and incumbent Abdul Hamid Dbeibah had agreed to sit down for talks.
“The good thing is that everyone is ready to engage in constructive dialogue, and that’s what we need to build upon.” she said late Thursday in a video interview.
Concern is growing that Libya might be plunged back into chaos after a UN-backed peace process stumbled in late December when elections for a new leadership were postponed. Lawmakers picked Bashagha as premier after Dbeibah refused to quit.
Bashagha, a former fighter pilot and powerful interior minister in a previous administration based in the capital, has signaled he plans to take office in Tripoli within days. There’s been a mobilization of some of Libya’s powerful armed groups, raising the possibility the country with Africa’s largest oil reserves could again fracture between dueling administrations, as it did for years after 2014.
In an interview this week with the Associated Press, Bashagha said the country could be unified without more fighting and that his government will focus on holding elections soon.
He was sworn in as premier this month by lawmakers who say Dbeibah’s mandate expired after Libya failed to hold the presidential elections as scheduled. Powerful figures including eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar and Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libya’s former autocratic leader, sought to contest the poll.
Williams said the UN favors neither side and is “not in the business of endorsing or recognizing governments.” She described elections as “the only way out of the Libyan political crisis,” and essential to renew popular legitimacy for Libya’s institutions.
“I started this year saying that I thought if everyone sort of leaned in, we could get an electoral event by June. But the two chambers decided to sort of do their own thing. And this has now taken us to the middle of March,” said Williams. “So I can’t provide a firm timeline until we work with the two chambers to produce the constitutional basis and revise the electoral laws.”
Energy production has often been at the heart of the political conflict, with armed groups or protesters periodically shutting down facilities to press demands, depriving the country of billions of dollars in oil export revenue.
The current surge in global oil prices “has advantages” for Libya, “but it also makes the struggle over access to power and resources, all the more stark,” said Williams. “Oil in Libya is both a blessing and a curse.”
— With assistance by Michael Gunn