Sunday, May 1, 2016

Middle East Eye interview with UN Special Representative of Secretary-General, Martin Kobler

In a wide-ranging interview with Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Martin Kobler, the Middle-East Eye discusses with him the many challenges he faces in trying to get the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) established.

Kobler has had many tough jobs before. He served as a diplomat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The article notes that Kobler's job was made even more difficult as he took over from Bernardino Leon, who accepted a lucrative job in the UAE — which was backing the internationally recognized government the House of Representatives, one of the two rival governments. Emails show he was working closely with UAE authorities as well. Incredibly, this clear conflict of conflict was simply denied by the UN and he himself said it was only "bad optics." Kobler had no criticism of Leon only praise:
 “Leon is Leon and Kobler is Kobler,” he said, adding that Leon did a “great job” of putting together a political agreement that has laid the groundwork for a new unity government in Libya.
The article is quite simplistic in its description of some events. Of the Skhirat agreement or Libya Political Agreement(LPA) signed on December 17 it says:The unity government was agreed as part of the Libyan Political Agreement in December, which was a product of the Libyan Political Dialogue, where representatives from a broad spectrum of society came together to negotiate a route out of the current political crisis.No mention is made that the LPA was supposed to be approved by both the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk and the rival General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli. Neither parliament ever signed and those members who signed the LPA from the two parliaments were not authorized to do so.
The article correctly notes that the international community is concerned about refugees fleeing to Europe for Libya and also the threat of the Islamic State expanding in the country. On the issue of foreign intervention Kobler notes:
“We have to be very clear with the words. Intervention against the will of a state is often incorrectly mixed with military assistance. Intervention is where you intervene against a state and military assistance is something requested by a state. One is against sovereignty and the other is respecting the sovereignty.”Many critics might claim that the GNA is being pressed upon Libyans so that foreign military intervention can then be requested justifying the intervention.
Surprisingly, Kobler did not consider the defeat of the Islamic State or Daesh as the first priority: “The fight against Daesh is something that has to be dealt with on a priority basis. The security in Libya has to be restored – a united Libyan army has to be formed because the main fight against Daesh is for the Libyans themselves. Libyans have to come to grips with forming a united army – we are willing to assist them – and then to go against Daesh. If they then request the assistance of foreigners so be it. But this is really the second step and we should now concentrate on the first step.”The article notes that this may be difficult and that the issue of Libya's army has been a constant stumbling block to establishing the GNA. As it is now, the GNA is protected by armed militias. Most of the Libyan National Army(LNA) consists of former militia of General Khalifa Haftar whose headquarters are in the eastern part of Libya. He was appointed commander in chief of the LNA by the HoR government of Al-Thinni.
Kobler blamed the failure of the HoR to pass the GNA on intimidation. He welcomed the letter sent by 102 members of the HoR declaring support for the GNA. He does not mention that the same letter demands that Section 8 of the LPA which takes the job of Haftar and gives it to the Presidency Council be deleted. The letter was cheered by a group of European foreign ministers who also ignored the caveat. Kobler suggests that a meeting should be held elsewhere. He does not explain why he is unable to arrange for security in Tobruk so the meeting can go ahead. Kobler says: “It’s useless to continue the same way, when a fair try has been done. It was tried once, it was tried twice – it failed – let’s try again in a safer place.” This is the same suggestion made months ago when a meeting was disrupted.
Kobler was asked what he would do if convening the vote elsewhere led to a boycott by eastern-based members. He said he would "defer to the decisions of Libyans and moderate the process by convening the Libyan Political Dialogue." This would just be a repeat of what he did when the GNA was declared up and running after a statement by an alleged majority of the HoR that they supported the GNA and Kobler claimed that a Political Dialogue meeting gave the GNA a green light to move to Tripoli.
The article talks about some in the east being unwilling to approve Article 8: The reluctance behind some in the east to approve the GNC is Article 8 of the LPA, which stipulates that “all powers of the senior military, civil and security posts... shall be transferred to the Presidency Council”.This has been interpreted by some as endangering the position of Haftar, who reportedly opposes the idea of his power being reduced or overseen by a defence minister.Notice the qualification "interpreted by some." Notice too that the majority who approve the GNA also want Article 8 removed as the article notes later. The article noted that Kobler would not specifically discuss Haftar. Kobler did not discuss Haftar's recently receiving a large shipment of trucks and ammunition. Kobler said:“There is the Libyan National Army of General Haftar, but this does not cover the whole country. One needs to find a process where everybody – east and west – feels reflected in a joined army structure. This is still missing. And this is one of the most important things the Presidency Council and the new government has to take up.”On the issue of Article 8 Kobler took the position that the LPA was approved and is that way forward. In other words it is part and parcel of the agreement. He has said many times the LPA cannot be amended.
Kobler argued that the race to have the GNA up and running was not dictated by foreign interests but that Libyan and foreign interests ran parallel. On the HoR attempt to export 650,000 barrels of oil through the eastern-based National Oil Company Kobler said that he did not expect it to be successful as "importers cannot afford to take illegal oil". Kobler said that "politicians who put their personal interest above the national interest" were behind the attempt to market oil illegally. He refused to cite any specific names. You would think that PM Al Thinni, and Khalifa Haftar would be among those singled out. Kobler gave no indication of when or where there would be a new meeting of the HoR to vote confidence in the GNA and to pass an amendment to the constitutional declaration of 2011.


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