UN envoys offer mediation between Libyan politicians

UN envoy Stephanie Williams on Friday offered to mediate between political rivals in Libya as two rival governments claim power after tentative steps towards unity over the past year.

Williams, the UN Special Adviser in Libya, invited lawmakers to appoint 12 members to a committee to work to overcome the political stalemate.

“The solution to Libya’s crisis is not to form rival administrations and perennial transitions,” Williams tweeted. “Libyans must agree on a consensual path forward that prioritises preserving the country’s unity and stability.

Lawmakers in the eastern city of Tobruk swore in a transitional cabinet on Thursday, with Fathi Bashagha as prime minister. His government is set to replace Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.

Dbeibah was appointed through a UN-led process in February 2021, provided he was a shepherd across the country until elections to take place in December. The vote never took place, which triggered the pressure to replace him with Bashagha.

Dbeibah maintains that he will only hand over power to an elected government and has proposed a four-point plan to hold a simultaneous parliamentary and referendum on constitutional changes by the end of June.

The appointment of Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister from the western city of Misrata, is part of a roadmap that also includes constitutional changes and sets the date for elections within 14 months.

The delay in the elections was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich Mediterranean nation.

According to Williams, once legislators have appointed a committee, it would meet on March 15 under the auspices of the UN for two weeks to work against a constitutional framework for elections. She said her invitation had been extended to lawmakers from the country’s two parliamentary chambers, which have been divided between rival governments. Williams said she would wait for their response.

Libya has not been able to hold elections since its disputed legislative vote in 2014, which led to the country being divided for several years between rival administrations in the East and the West, each with the support of armed militias and foreign governments.

Williams also called on Libyans to abstain “from all acts of escalation, threats, kidnapping, provocation and violence.”

After taking the oath on Thursday, Bashagha told parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk that armed groups had abducted the newly appointed foreign, culture and technical education ministers – and fired at others on their way to the ceremony. The reports could not be verified independently.

Dbeibah’s government issued a statement on Friday saying two of the ministers had been released thanks to security intervention. No further details were provided, including who was behind the abductions. The statement quoted Dbeibah as condemning such “illegal acts”.

It is unclear what happened to the third minister.

Also on Friday, The International Crisis Group warned that there were signs that the situation could escalate into a military confrontation, citing reports that armed groups allied with the Tripoli-based government had closed Libyan airspace to prevent ministers from traveling to Tobruk to attend Bashagha’s oath ceremony.

The group called on the international community to take a unified position on Libya. “What happens next depends largely on how foreign powers react,” the statement read. “A fragmented international response can encourage institutional fragmentation and military mobilization.”

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