UN to hold conference on Libya to pave way to elections

Ghassan Salame, UN special envoy for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), delivers a speech at the mission headquarters in the capital Tripoli on Wednesday. — AFP

TRIPOLI — The United Nations said on Wednesday it will organize an all-party conference next month to draw up a “roadmap” to lead Libya toward elections and out of the chaos in which it has plunged since a 2011 revolution.

The national conference aims to fix dates for legislative and presidential elections in the North African state, which has been torn apart by military, political and tribal feuds since the NATO-backed uprising that ousted longtime ruler Muammar Gadhafi.

“We will invite all Libya’s political categories, without exception,” UN envoy Ghassan Salame told a news conference in Tripoli.

He said between 120 and 150 delegates were expected to participate in the forum in the central city of Ghadames on April 14-16, which has been agreed following consultations and meetings in 57 towns across the country.

The conference will also try to reach decisions on a new constitution and set target dates for legislative texts, which have been delayed by Libya’s two rival administrations.

The UN’s Libya mission UNSMIL said the country’s unity government leader Fayez Al-Sarraj and military strongman Khalifa Haftar agreed at a meeting in Abu Dhabi last month to work toward organizing elections.

Addressing the UN Security Council via video-conference from Tripoli, Salame insisted that the sides were now committed to resolving their power dispute through elections.

“Many of these principles are not new,” he said. “What is new is the sincerity to turn these words into the end of the transitional period through elections.”

Libya’s rival leaders agreed last year to hold elections before Dec. 10, 2018 under a French plan, but that vote never materialized.

Sarraj’s Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli, is rejected by a rival administration in the east of the country that is backed by Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.

Persistent instability, territorial disputes and political divisions in the oil-rich state have delayed the implementation of a past accord to hold elections and unify Libya’s institutions.

Salame told the council that the Libyan people wanted an end to divisions but that they were “up against powerful forces, which have materially profited from the country’s chaos and division and are therefore loath to work towards a unification.”

The former academic and Lebanese culture minister who has been leading UN peace efforts since June 2017 stressed that Libya had reached “a critical juncture” after Haftar’s forces gained ground in the south.

If the planned national conference fails, “then we will be faced with only two possible options: prolonged stalemate or conflict,” said Salame.

The envoy called on world powers to pressure all sides in Libya to avoid re-igniting conflict and back elections.

UN peace efforts in Libya have been complicated by outside backing for competing sides in the conflict. — AFP