The unity government of the North African nation took office from rival administrations that ruled the eastern and western regions.
Regional countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt have an important role in helping Libya reach a lasting political solution to its internal conflict, Jan Kubis, UN Special Envoy and Head of UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) told the Security Council on Wednesday.
Libya’s eastern and western administrations officially handed over power to the Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this week after months of progressive strides in conflict resolution. However, the process is ongoing.
As part of October’s ceasefire deal, foreign fighters and mercenaries were supposed to leave Libya by January 23. Yet according to reports, foreign fighters are still on Libya’s territory.
Kubis reiterated the call for foreign fighters to urgently leave the country as was agreed last year.
The envoy told the UN Security Council: “Their withdrawal from Libya will go a long way in reconstituting the unity and sovereignty of the country and healing the deep wounds caused by many years of internal strife, active conflict and foreign interference.”
The latest cycle in the UN-led peace process, which began in November in Tunis and ended in Geneva, produced the new transitional government. Libya’s Parliament approved the new transitional government on March 10.
Prior to the talks in Tunis, representatives of the rival factions met for several rounds of dialogue in Morocco. The full withdrawal of foreign mercenaries and respect of the ceasefire agreement were key priorities in the rival Libyan parties’ talks.
In his address, Kubis stressed the importance that both the government and Parliament implement the road-map of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF). He underlined that this will only be possible with support from the international community and UNSC.
He urged the Security Council to conduct ceasefire monitoring as the new unity government works towards its mandate. “It is important to continue to support the authorities to address this ongoing threat, act against international terrorism and to fight unlawful armed groups and organized crime networks plaguing the country, which is critical for the stability of Libya,” he said.
Libya’s Unity Government
After the head of the UN-sponsored and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez Al-Serraj officially ceded power to the GNU on March 16, Libya’s eastern administration, headquartered in the Cyrenaica region and led by Khalifa Haftar, handed over power to the unity government on March 23.
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Mohamed El-Menfi, president of the Libyan Presidential Council, are leading the GNU.
The GNU is tasked with unifying the gas and oil rich country and leading it to democratic elections in December.
Speaking during the transition of power ceremony, El-Menfi said: “At the end of this year, we will hand over power to the Libyans so that they can choose their representatives.”
The unity government came about months after the signing of a ceasefire agreement on October 23, 2020 that officially ended the Libyan civil war. The interim government seems to be a crucial step in ending Libya’s decade of chaos, since the killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and after five years of two rival administrations running different regions of the country.
Foreign powers on Libya
Turkey was among the first countries to back the transitional government. On March 10, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry published a written statement welcoming the new government.
“We welcome the Government of National Unity, which Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah proposed to the Libyan House of Representatives on March 10, 2021,” the ministry stated.
Through the statement, the ministry urged Libya’s local community as well as the international community to support the newly-appointed government in building a safe and democratic Libya.
Earlier in February, Dbeibah described Turkey as an ally during an interview with Anadolu Agency.
“Turkey is an ally, friend, and a brotherly state, and it has huge capabilities to help the Libyans achieve their real goals. Turkey is considered a real partner to Libya,” the prime minister said.
On March 23, France announced that it will open its embassy in Libya as a step to show support for the unity government. France closed the embassy in 2014.
French President Emmanuel Macron said after meeting with El-Menfi: “Monday our Embassy in Tripoli will reopen and our ambassador will be back on your territory.”
“I want here to show you all my support and that of France for the new Libyan unified authorities that emerged from the transition process,” he added.
One day after Macron’s statements, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi showed support to the unity government. “The Italian government’s foreign policy position is to support the government of national unity in Libya with the aim of holding elections in early December,” he said.
The PM set the first week of April as a date to visit Libya.
Meanwhile, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Heiko Maas, and Luigi Di Maio, Foreign Affairs Ministers of France, Germany, and Italy, respectively, met on Thursday with their Libyan counterpart Najla Mangouch to show the EU’s support to the newly-appointed government.
Le Drian said in a statement that the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs published, “the European Union stands alongside the new executive. We will help it continue the democratic transition the Libyan people expect, which we believe means two things: firstly, the elections planned for 24 December should go ahead on time, as the Libyans wish, and secondly, that work to achieve that needs to start now.”
The UK showed its support on March 26 during a meeting of Libya’s Chairman of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), Imad Al-Sayeh, and the UK Ambassador to Libya, Nicholas Hopton.
For the first time since 2014, Libya’s national football team played a home match on March 25.
Libya’s national team hosted Tunisia for the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) qualifier at Martyrs of February Stadium. The match took place behind closed doors and ended 2-5 in favor of the Tunisian side.
Despite the result, the Libyan fans were jubilant to see the national team play in Libya again after a seven year ban due to insecurity and instability.
The appointment of a unity government is an important step for Libya to find a way out of the war. Still, the country has a long ride ahead.
The same day Kubis spoke to the Security Council about the need to withdraw foreign mercenaries and respect the ceasefire agreement, assailants killed the commander of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, in the eastern city of Benghazi, according to officials.
Al-Werfalli was wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). He was accused of conducting executions and ordering several executions in 2016.
Libya’s new unity government could provide fresh hope for a more democratic and peaceful transition of power in the December elections. However, the killing of al-Werfalli highlights the continued fragility, insecurity, and instability in Libya.