This week, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) hosted a new round of talks in Geneva that has renewed hopes of helping the Libyan parties reach agreement on overcoming the political and institutional crises engulfing the country.
Why are these talks important?
Libya risks falling more deeply into chaos as rival groups grapple for control, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNSMIL Bernardino León told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday, 14 January. Time is running out, he warned.
Conflict has rapidly escalated throughout the country over the past year. The Libya Dawn military alliance seized control of the country’s capital, Tripoli, in August, pushing the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to the eastern city of Al-Bayda. Since then, conflict between Libya Dawn and a coalition involving militias from Zintan and remnants of the Libyan Army has continued sporadically in numerous areas of the country. Benghazi, the second largest city, has been the center of a violent battle between forces loyal to retired general Khalifa Haftar and a coalition of Islamist militias, including Ansar Al-Sharia, for more than nine months straight.
On the political front, the increased military confrontation has only further polarized the two main camps, leading to parallel parliaments and governments. The elected House of Representatives, who supports the government of al-Thinni, operates from Tobruk in the east, while the former General National Congress interprets a November Supreme Court Decision as reinstating it as the legitimate legislative body of the country, and operates from Tripoli.
Many people have been displaced and even more are affected by power shortages, rising prices for everyday goods, and dramatic cuts in services, including education and healthcare.
In addition, there is fighting in the Nafusa Mountains and around Ras Lanuf in the east, where the country’s main oil terminals are located. This also has financial implications, as Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa and is a top global oil exporter. The governor of the Central Bank has already said that the country is running out of time.
There is also growing concern about the spread of terrorist groups in Libya. This is particularly worrying, Mr. León said, given Libya’s location in the heart of a strategic region with a reach to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Sahel and Europe.
What are the goals of the talks?
This week’s discussions focused on a framework that will lead to a political settlement and to a halt in the fighting, although that is not expected to happen immediately.
“This is a process,” Mr.León said this week. “This is going to take time. We are not expecting to have a breakthrough tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”
The talks brought representatives from both camps together to discuss the groundwork for an agreement on the remainder of the transitional period, including the formation a national unity government representative of all Libyans.
“There is a gap between the parties, which is becoming more complicated, there is more fighting on the ground, so we will try to facilitate these talks and to help them to reach common ground, but it is not going to be easy,” Mr. León has said, adding that agreeing on proposals, more than formal decisions, is the objective of this initial round of talks.
After two days of intensive discussions, participants agreed on an agenda that includes reaching a political agreement to form a consensual national unity government.
A statement from UNSMIL said the talks "were constructive and conducted in a positive atmosphere, and reflected the participants' sincere commitment to reach common ground".
Who is participating in the talks?
Delegates at the first round of talks represented both major political camps and civil society. Subsequent rounds, to begin as early as next week, will involve municipalities, armed groups, political parties and tribal leaders.
“The decision to convene these talks follows extensive consultations with all the major Libyan stakeholders,” UNSMIL had said before the start of this week’s session, releasing a list of participants.
How long will the talks last?
This first round of talks ended on Friday, 16 January. Participants agreed to return to Geneva as early as next week for a new round of dialogue after holding the necessary consultations with their respective constituencies.