Sunday, November 29, 2015

Meeting of HoR in Libya suspended after fight with no vote on Libya Political Agreement

- Both the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) in Tobruk and the rival General National Congress(GNC) have yet to vote on the latest draft of the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Agreement(LPA).
There were no announcements by the UN or major media outlets as to when either of the two rival governments would meet to discuss and vote on the LPA even though the new Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, has been urging the two sides to sign the agreement since he took office over a week ago. Countries such as France have also been urging signing of the agreement to create a unified government to fight the Islamic State and no doubt to agree to foreign military intervention in exchange for aid and recognition. It is now clear Kobler exerted sufficient pressure on the two governments that they are again forced to go through a process neither government wants, and in the case of the HoR, could possibly cause a military coup. However, so far I have found only one outlet, the usually pro-HoR Libya Herald, that has described what happened in the House of Representative yesterday.
The Herald claims the HoR met yesterday to discuss the LPA and the associated Government of National Accord(GNA), but the session was suspended. The Herald claims the pro-HoR Libyan news agency LANA reported the suspension followed upon a heated discussion about the plan that ended up with a fight in the parliament. You would think at least a few news outlets might find a fight in the HoR parliament worth reporting, if not the substance and background of the debate. The president of the HoR, Ageela Gwaider, has conveniently been away for the last while so no meeting could be held. Perhaps Kobler managed somehow to persuade Gwaider that he could delay no longer. The results are worse divisions, no vote and no word yet when the suspended meeting will convene.
The GNC was scheduled to meet on the LPA and GNA today but there appear to be no reports yet on that meeting. A spokesperson for the GNC called the present LPA document defective. The GNC earlier asked for amendments but then-envoy Leon said that was impossible before amending the document himself. Kobler also insists there can be no changes to the text of the LPA or even of those already named to the GNA, names to which both sides have objected.
Before the HoR meeting yesterday, 92 HoR members signed a statement backing the GNA, according to the Herald's description. They accused the HoR president, Gwaider, of violating the HoR rules through preventing them from meeting. The Herald continues: . However, they also effectively said that there could be no changes in the leadership of the Libyan National Army (LNA) (in other words General Khalifa Hafter) and that the names announced by former UN special envoy Bernardino Leon for the proposed presidency council needed modifications.In other words, the group do not support the GNA as described in the UN-sponsored agreement presented to them. The LPA designates senior members of the GNA government to fill the role of commander in chief that Haftar now fills. This group is in effect rejecting the LPA because they know that Haftar will never accept being turfed from his position.
The group did agree to what is called the Fezzan initiative, which accepts the final LPA draft rather than the earlier July 11 draft that gave virtually no power to the GNC and which they had soundly rejected. Some members still insist the earlier July draft should be voted on. The most recent draft does give some limited power to the GNC through a Council composed of GNC members. However the Fezzan initiative is not in accord with the Kobler and Leon draft either. It rejects the names Kobler and Leon suggest for prime minister, deputy prime ministers, and senior ministers, who make up the senior executive power of the GNA. The Fezzzan initiative also says the Libyan National Army is fighting against terrorism and so cannot be subject to negotiations in relation to any political agreement. Perhaps this should be called the Khalifa Haftar amendment, or at least the red line for the HoR accepting any LPA. To the other side and others as well, for Haftar to continue on will never be accepted. To call passage of the modified LPA as approving the accord is ludicrous. Yet the HoR members cannot even agree on this weakened version of an LPA. The suspension of the meeting has angered many members, the same sort of reaction occurred when no vote took place when Leon had demanded a vote on the LPA. In this case, history repeats itself in a very short time span. One member said the suspension was sabotage by HoR president Salah Gwaider.
Leon had named three deputy ministers but also increased the number to five, with one from the south and another from the east. He also added another minister to the top presidency council. Kobler apparently has asked both the HoR and the GNC to appoint names they want appointed to the extra posts.
Not surprisingly there are moves to hold a dialogue between rival Libyan groups without the UN. There is an article in the Libya Observer by an HoR official criticizing Kobler and the UN. The most recent press release from the UN praises the recent ceasefire negotiated with the help of Qatar between the southern Tebu and Tuareg tribes, but ends up urging again that the two rival governments sign on to the most recent draft of the LPA. At most what they can expect is approval of some crucially modified version of the LPA certain to be rejected by the GNC. Even that may not be possible.

New UN Libya envoy continues to demand rival governments sign on to Libya Political Agreement

The new UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, is continuing to try to persuade the two rival Libyan governments to sign on to the final draft of the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA) presented by former envoy Bernardino Leon.
Neither of the two rival governments — the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) located in the east in Tobruk, nor the General National Congress(GNC) located in Tripoli in the west — have voted on or approved the Leon LPA. Leon left the United Nations Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL) under a cloud due to conflict of interest allegations. He took a $1,500 a day job in the UAE in June and also accepted direction from the UAE, according to leaked emails. Statements from both parliaments have rejected the deal.
Since taking over from Leon just over a week ago, Kobler has done nothing but push both sides to sign on to the Leon draft. He had talks with representatives of both governments over last weekend. Neither side has given any indication they are likely to sign on. The GNC earlier demanded amendments. Leon said that was impossible and then made amendments himself. Kobler, following in the footsteps of Leon, has also maintained that not only the draft text must remain as is, but the names suggested by Leon as senior members of the Government of National Accord as well. Neither side has accepted these names and both want changes. The GNC did not submit any names and the HoR list of names did not include the prime minister suggested by Leon.
In Tobruk, after his talks with HoR representatives, Kobler said to reporters: "We cannot reopen the Libyan agreement now. I encouraged and I urged the members of the House of Representatives to go for a positive vote. This country deserves better than being in a bad economic state like now."Of course there is no mention of HoR setting up a separate National Oil Company and demanding tankers register with it — the HoR was undercutting the work of the neutral National Oil Company that up until now had exclusive jurisdiction over exports. The UN repeatedly warned against either party weakening its role on pain of facing sanctions. This was obviously a meaningless threat and the HoR went ahead. It now rejects a deal made by Glencore with the NOC to export oil. This is the sort of action that is ruining the economy of LIbya — Kobler refuses to even mention such events. Even if through a combination of carrots and sticks he manages to get the two sides to sign on to the LPA, this would be unenforceable without a parallel military agreement. Khalifa Haftar, who commands the HoR forces and the GNC forces mostly under Libya Dawn militia, must agree on a ceasefire and the LPA. Haftar rejects the LPA and refuses to negotiate with GNC militia, calling them terrorists. Jason Pack claims in a recent article:"Of course, security arrangements are both among the most crucial and most ambiguous components of the political agreement. Even if both the HoR and GNC miraculously endorsed the GNA, state collapse would be likely if the security situation is not addressed. However, progress on that key issue is unlikely without involving and maintaining the support of actors at the local level."
If both endorsed the GNA, then what is likely is not state collapse, but at least in the east, a military coup by Khalifa Haftar. He already proposes that the HoR should be replaced by a military council, and he has pledged allegiance to the HoR only as long as it does not sign on to the LPA. Haftar not only has stopped the HoR prime minister from leaving Libya twice, but he has an agreement to vet some cabinet appointments.
Nevertheless, Kobler insists on going further down the failed path of Leon: "We can discuss unresolved issues but should go for rapid signature of agreement on basis of where Leon left the process. The country needs legitimate institutions, strong institutions." Since the talks on the weekend, it is not clear what Kobler has been doing. The latest release from the UN site praises the recent peace agreement between the Tebu and Tuareg tribes in the south of Libya. It concludes by urging the parties to sign on to the LPA. An article in the pro-GNC Libya Observer by the the Head of Information and Culture Authority in the eastern government of Abdullah Al-Thanni.
UPDATE: A new report from the pro-HoR Libya Herald claims a meeting of the HoR to discuss and vote on the HoR has been suspended after a fight, again with no vote taken. Before the meeting, 92 HoR members had signed a statement backing the GNA. However, the group does not really approve the GNA at all since it insists that there be no changes in the leadership of the Libyan National Army — that is, General Khalifa Haftar is to keep his job. The LPA takes away his position and gives it to senior members of the GNA. No one on the other side will accept Haftar staying on the job. These events deserve a separate article. The GNC is apparently meeting soon also to discuss the LPA. Even if the HoR does pass a motion supporting the LPA it will not be the one that Leon proposed!

Internationally-recognized HoR Libyan government may try to sabotage Glencore oil deal

Before the rebellion against Gadaffi, Libya was pumping 1.6 million barrels of oil a day. Now, it is pumping about one quarter of that amount with new problems constantly popping up.
The National Oil Company and the Libyan Central Bank have been key institutions in retaining whatever unity there is in Libya. The National Oil Company deposits the money it receives for oil exports in the Libyan Central Bank and then distributes the funds to pay salaries and expenses for both rival governments. The internationally-recognized government the House of Representatives(HoR) is located in Tobruk while the rival government the General National Congress(GNC) is located in Tripoli. The UN Support MIssion in Libya(UNSMIL) has warned the rival governments several times not to endanger the neutrality of these key institutions and threatened possible sanctions against those who do so:In this regard, UNSMIL calls on the parties to safeguard the national institutions by refraining from taking any steps that could compromise the neutrality of these institutions that are crucial for Libya’s economic survival.
The internationally-recognized HoR government went ahead and set up its own National Oil Company(NOC) in competition with the existing neutral National Oil Company located in the capital, Tripoli, and also set up a rival head of the Libyan National Bank. So far oil companies and tankers have insisted on registering only with the National Oil Company in Tripoli. This annoys the HoR, which has been attempting to force companies to register with its own NOC in the east. Recently, militia guarding a port in the east refused to load an oil tanker and closed the port to any tankers not registered with the eastern NOC.
The UN did nothing before to stop the actions of the HoR and it is doing nothing now. It is not even mentioning the actions any more. The Glencore situation is simply a continuation of the HoR drive to sabotage the operations of the neutral NOC, since it wants eastern exports to go only through its own rival firm. This threatens the economy as well as the success of negotiations for a unity Government of National Accord that the new UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, has been pressing for. Yet the UN not only does not attempt to stop what is going on but does not even mention it, nor does the international community.
News reports on what is happening obscure the reality that I just described. Here is a very misleading account of what happened, coming from a no less reputable news source than the Guardian which says of Glencore:The Switzerland-based firm agreed last week to buy up to half of Libya’s oil exports from the western division of the National Oil Company in Tripoli, where an Islamist-backed government is based.There are no eastern and western divisions of the National Oil Company. There is the neutral National Oil Company based in Tripoli that serves all of Libya, or is supposed to. There is also the rival NOC in the east, set up by the HoR against the wishes of the UN and in spite of the threat of sanctions. The HoR wants to keep oil revenues from ports it controls to itself and sign the contracts. Glencore would be loading crude oil from the Sarir and Messia fields and exporting from Marsa el-Hariga port in the east at Tobruk. The Guardian reports: " The eastern government says it does not recognise any agreement signed with Tripoli." However, the deal is not signed "with Tripoli" but with the National Oil Company that serves the whole of Libya, or did until the HoR attempted to sabotage the arrangement.
Other reports also repeat the Guardian misrepresentation:The eastern Libyan government's half of state-owned oil company NOC may seek to physically prevent tankers of commodity company Glencore from loading oil purchased from the western half of the company.There are not two halves of NOC, one in the east and one in the west. This is bizarre reporting.
[url= t=_blank]The agreement signed in September covers 150,000 barrels a day with an option to renew the deal in December. The HoR is again snubbing its nose at the UN and the international community which has always dealt with the neutral NOC. The HoR is now forcing the business community to deal with its own rival company that was set up in spite of warnings from the UN not to do so as it will divide the country even further. If this move is successful the division between the rival governments will be increased while the UN Special Envoy to Libya is busy flogging the dead horse of the Libya Political Agreement that neither government has approved.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Southern Libya Tuareg and Tebu tribes agree to ceasefire

After a conflict that has lasted over a year, the Tebu and Tuareg tribes that control territory in the south of Libya have signed a ceasefire. Much of the conflict has been in the southern city of Obari.
The deal was worked out with Qatar acting as mediator and was signed in Doha, Qatar on November 23. There will be an immediate ceasefire and thousands of people displaced during the conflict will be able to return. In July of this year, the battle between the two tribes reached into Sebha or Sabha, the largest city in the south, causing hundreds to flee their homes. An attempt to negotiate a truce in September failed due to violations of the ceasefire. More details are given at the usually pro-HoR Libya Herald. The Herald expresses scepticism about the present ceasefire as well.
The Toubou or Tebu are a group of Berbers. They live primarily in northern Chad, but there are also significant numbers in southern Libya, and some also in Southern Sudan and Niger. The group were discriminated against during the Gadaffi regime and fought with other rebels against him. The Tuareg are also a Berber nomadic group who live mostly in Niger and Mali. They often are in conflict with governments as they seek autonomy. At one time they controlled much of northern Mali. There are a significant number of Tuareg in the south western part of Libya. The group being nomadic, as are the Tebu, they often move from one country to another.
The Tuareg representative, Mustafa Salem, said to an Al-Jazeera reporter:"Signing this deal means the start of the construction and development period, and reconciliation. After 14 months of war, I think all of us are convinced that no one has interest in war.There are fingers of regional powers and competing political orientations and is not a merely tribal conflict."The Tripoli-based General National Congress(GNC) applauded the ceasefire and thanked Qatar in its role as mediator. The GNC saw the agreement as a move towards reconciliation in the whole of southern Libya.
Youssef Cherif, a political analyst based in Tunis, claimed the situation remains fragile:"While the Tripoli government welcomes the news, [on] the other side - the [UN-recognised] Tobruk government and Khalifa Haftar - there is a lot of criticism." Khalifa Haftar is the commander of the armed forces of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) based in Tobruk. The GNC has often accused Haftar of fomenting strife in southern Libya to gain control of the area for groups favourable to the HoR and himself.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, visits UAE and promises joint action on Libya

United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, met on November 23 with United Arab Emirates(UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Kerry will visit Israel and Palestine as well.
Kerry will be discussing Syria and other crises in the Middle East. In the UAE he talked to the foreign minister about the situation in Libya. A new UN Special Envoy to Libya has just taken over from the former Special Envoy, Bernardino Leon. Leon worked for almost a year to draft a final Libya Political Agreement(LPA) and proposed names for a Government of National Accord. Neither the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) parliament based in Tobruk nor the rival General National Congress(GNC) have approved or even voted on the LPA. Leon left the UN position under a cloud as he was in a blatant conflict of interest situation.
While acting as a supposedly impartial mediator between the two rival Libyan governments, Leon accepted last June a job in the UAE that paid over $1,500 a day. Leaked emails also show he consulted with and even took direction from the UAE. The UAE is a strong supporter of the HoR government and its chief military commander, Khalifa Haftar. The UAE is also accused of shipping arms to the HoR and Haftar in violation of a UN ban on weapons shipments to Libya. The UAE was accused by the U.S. of clandestinely bombing Tripoli last year with the help of Egypt.
Kerry said the United States together with the UAE would take steps soon to address the situation in Libya:“We also talked very seriously today about Libya, and we are committed to taking steps in the next weeks, months to try to address that situation,”Kerry makes no mention of the LPA that many foreign countries and the UN have pressured the two rival governments to sign. Mystery planes bombed Islamic State positions in the city of Sirte recently. No one seems to have followed up to find out whose planes they might have been. Neither of the two rival governments claim responsibility. Perhaps the U.S. will join in with the UAE in bombing Sirte. The U.S. recently attacked Islamic State positions outside of Derna and claim to have killed an Islamic State leader although the IS denies that the leader was killed.
The new UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, has had talks with both rival governments urging them to sign on to the agreement. The French Defence Minister along with many others also urge signing of the agreement and warn that not to do so would be a victory for the Islamic State. The Islamic State main base now is in the city of Sirte and area. Contrary to numerous reports, there is little evidence that it is gaining much if any territory. In fact it has lost what was long its main base and stronghold the city of Derna. The Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation also urged the signing of the agreement when he met Kobler.
There are no reports yet as to when the two parliaments will meet again to vote on the LPA. Kobler has insisted the agreement cannot be amended even though the GNC requested amendments and the HoR claims the draft is not acceptable as it is. There is not even discussion of any parallel military dialogue to ensure that there is a ceasefire and disarmament. Without this the implementation of any political agreement will be impossible.

Thousands more US marines to go to Guam

A force of 4,800 U.S. Marines is to move to Guam to be ready for war and disasters in East Asia as part of Obama's pivot to Asia plan.
Guam was seized by the U.S. from Japan during the Second World War. An agreement was reached as far back as 2010 to build a $12 billion super naval base in Guam. As a result the Marines will land "on a sturdy-as-granite pier in a sheltered Pacific harbor newly rebuilt to carry wave after wave of tank-driving troops." In 2012 the U.S. agreed to withdraw 9,000 marines from Okinawa, where there have been numerous protests against the U.S. military presence. Recently, the governor of Okinawa ordered construction stopped on a new base. In response, the Japanese government is taking the case to court. About 4,000 of the Marines going to Guam will be from Okinawa.
Guam is a territory of the United States established by the Guam Organic Act of 1950, which set out the structure of the civilian government. The inhabitants were given U.S. citizenship. However, since it is not a state, U.S. citizens residing there do not get to vote for the president and their representative in Congress has no vote. The U.S. military occupies a total of 29 percent of the island, or 39,000 acres and has jurisdiction over its bases.
The military carries out training and practice bombing operations in the nearby Northern Mariana Islands. The Pentagon is having trouble convincing two islands to grant space for the Marines to train. On the one island, Tinian, the Marines plan to practice ground manoeuvres. A tourist company with an associated casino fears rocket blasts and the sound of mortars could scare away tourists. The Chinese company that owns the facilities has hinted that it may pull out if the military plan goes ahead. Tinian has the landing strip from which the U.S. bomber took off to drop a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Eloy Inos, complained: “Tinian is incredibly small. In all honesty, some of the specific live fire training activities the Marines are proposing for Tinian just do not seem appropriate.” The island has about 3,000 residents.
On the other island, Pagan, known for a volcano of the same name, the plan is for a large international training zone. However, many former residents object to this as they hope to return to live there three decades after an eruption forced them to evacuate. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as the territory is known, has hired an attorney well-known for fighting Pentagon plans in the Pacific. Nick Yost, the San Francisco attorney, said: “Having a place to fire cannons and practice obviously is essential, but this just isn’t the right place.”
U.S. authorities are drawn to Guam and the Marianas since they are U.S. territories. There is no concern that a foreign partner should suddenly revoke a partnership. In 1992, the Philippine government forced the U.S. from its navy base at Subic Bay. However, lately the U.S. has agreements with the Philippines to rotate troops into and out of the country and has a number of training programs as cooperation between the two countries increases in a move to counter Chinese influence.
Japan will pay above a third of the estimated $8.7 billion cost of the new Guam facilities, as thousands of Marines will be moved from Okinawa where they are causing political problems for the Japanese government. The Japanese are expected to participate in joint exercises if and when the new expanded facilities are up and running. The Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, a booster of the military build-up, said: “It’s location, location, location. We’re U.S. sovereign soil and we’re basically in the same time zone as Japan. The next closest U.S. soil is a seven-hour flight to Hawaii.”
Many residents both on Guam and the Northern Marianas think the military footprint is too large. Activist, Victoria Lola-Guerroro has been protesting for five years against military plans. She said: “We’re going to become this island with only one purpose, and that will be for the military.” Her activism, with the group, "We Are Guahan," has already managed to slow down Pentagon plans.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New UN Libyan Envoy Martin Kobler meets with members of rival governments

Over the weekend, the new UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, met first with representatives of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) in Tobruk and the General National Congress(GNC) in Tripoli.
Apparently there is an internationally accepted adjective to describe those who disagree with the deal and refuse to vote on it. Reuters for example claims:U.N.-sponsored talks to end the conflict between Libya's two rival governments and their armed factions have stalled since hardliners in both camps have resisted voting on the deal, which Western governments hope will lead to stability.Perhaps those who want to approve the deal are "wimps" who gave in to constant pressure from the UN and the international community together with threats of sanctions against those who oppose the agreement or the process. The "hardliners" could be "principled" members in each camp who did not sell out.
The press is full of what appears to be straight reporting that is slanted in obvious ways. For example Reuters reports: New envoy Martin Kobler met over the weekend with the internationally recognized government and elected parliament in the east, and with representatives of the self-declared government in Tripoli and its parliament.The GNC government is not referred to as such by Reuters and certainly not by what it calls itself, the Salvation Government. It is the"self-declared" government in Tripoli as contrasted with the "elected parliament" and "internationally-recognized" government in the east. Those elections were declared unconstitutional by the Libya Supreme Constitutional court in November of 2014 which ruled the parliament should be considered "dissolved." The turnout for the elections was under 18 percent. A number who were elected have boycotted the Tobruk parliament. The mandate for the "elected" government ran out on Oct. 22, which was why Leon wanted the unity government in place by then. It no longer has any legal status. It should be called the self-declared extended mandate government. GNC media sources usually refer to the HoR as the "dissolved parliament." Now I have that off my chest I'll get back to the issue of Kobler's talks.
Kobler issued a press release through the UN Support Mission for Libya(UNSMIL) website after his meeting in Tobruk with the HoR but so far there has been nothing on the site about his meeting in Tripoli. Just as with his predecessor Leon, and the UN, he is putting pressure on the HoR to sign the agreement: Now my message was very clear: I will take up the process where my predecessor left it. We cannot reopen the Libyan agreement now. I encouraged and I urged the members of the House of Representatives to go for a positive vote.
Kobler is flogging the same old dead horse which has stalled the whole process. Kobler and his bosses must think they can somehow force the two parliaments to do what they have refused to do for many weeks. Leon claimed there were majorities in both parliaments that could pass the LPA. Personally I doubt that. I think the reason that there has been no vote is that neither side wants to be blamed for rejecting the agreement. If a vote were forced in the HoR and the agreement passed there could very well be a military coup by Haftar who rejects the agreement.
In any event, a vote at this juncture would probably be divisive in both parliaments. Any political agreement(LPA) is unenforceable without a parallel military agreement between Haftar and the forces of the GNC, but Haftar refuses to negotiate with them or even contemplate a ceasefire. Even Leon noted a parallel military agreement was necessary several times. All Kobler says his emphasis will be on security. He has never explained what he means to do. He has said nothing about a parallel military dialogue.
Kobler said: "We maybe need a quick round of consultation, but not to change the draft... I will not open the draft. I push for quick decisions, but not for hasty decisions." Kobler has already made a hasty decision not to change the draft. The HoR has rejected the draft in a statement and demands changes. The GNC has demanded amendments. The two parliaments are being forced to vote on an agreement against their wishes. Both parliaments have made this perfectly clear but this just does not fit in with the reality as the UN sees it. Here is the reality as seen by the UN: The United Nations never imposed. We always will respect your sovereignty. We will always respect dialogue. We will always respect what you wish.
The United Nations never imposed. It tried to, even went on with the farce of trying to form a unity government when one party the GNC had not even initialled the draft. Perhaps it decided it might be better to try and get the GNC to sign on because otherwise there would be sure to be a continuing civil war. Now the same strategy is to use whatever leverage they can to force the Libyan governments to do what the UN wants. If the UN respects what Libyans wish, how is it that they refuse to consider the wish of both sides to alter the document and why does the UN go on treating those the UN named as part of the GNA as if they are somehow already significant figures? There is no dialogue anymore; there is simple arm twisting and who knows what carrots and sticks are being used as incentives to hold a vote?
Faiez Serraj, the prime minister-designate in Leon's draft, had talks in Egypt with officials on terrorism and support for the new Libyan GNA. He is now apparently in Algiers, invited there by the Algerian government. He will discuss the same subjects. There is no GNA, both Libyan parliaments have rejected the LPA and some of the names presented by Leon. The GNC submitted no names. The HoR submitted names but Serraj was not one of their names for prime minister.
The press release itself shows a complete lack of even the most elementary professionalism. There are two questions. In the text all that it says is "inaudible." I assume someone taped the session and then transcribed it. They could not hear what the question was but included the text of the answer. Surely it would have been no great task to have found out what the question was and included it. There is also lax proof reading. I thought only I am usually good at that. At least the typographical glitch provides some comic relief from what is mostly standard rhetorical garbage that almost always overlays reality in UN releases:I took up the process where Bernardino Leon left it, and Bernardino Leon is Bernardino Leon and Martin Kobler is Marin Kobler.At least Martin Kobler is working undercover for Marin Kobler and not for the UAE as Bernardino Leon appeared to have been.

Palestinian poet sentenced to death for apostasy by Saudi court

A Saudi court sentenced Asharaf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, to death for abandoning his Muslim faith, a form of apostasy punishable by death in Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries who implement Sharia law.
Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle reported on the sentence. Fayadh was first detained by the Saudi religious police in 2013 and rearrested and tried in the early part of 2014. At first a court sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes, but after the sentence was appealed, another court sentenced him to death just three days ago.
The Saudi judicial system is based upon Sharia law with the judges being clerics from the Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. In the groups' interpretation of Sharia law, religious crimes such as blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death. This is an interpretation held by many Islamic scholars but not all. The issue is discussed at some length in the Wikipedia entry on apostasy in Islam. Other countries including Yemen, the UAE, and Afghanistan also have the death penalty as punishment for apostasy. Public support for the punishment varies from one Islamic country to another with Afghanistan having one of the highest levels of support.
In Saudi Arabia, liberal writer Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times after being sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy. Although he remains in prison it appears that the international condemnation of the sentence has so far led to no repeat of the flogging. The judges need not sentence according to precedent but have leave to sentence according to their own interpretation of Sharia law. Hence Fayadh's first conviction was regarded as too lenient by the second cleric.
Sentences by lower courts can be heard by appeal courts and the supreme court. King Salman can pardon anyone. In Fayadh's case the lower court convicted him on the basis of a witness who claimed to have heard him cursing God, the Prophet Mohammad, and also Saudi Arabia. This last no doubt particularly irritates the monarchy. Evidence also came from a book he had written years ago. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower courts again to a different judge. That judge ruled out testimony from witnesses who had challenged the testimony of the prosecution witness. On November 17, he sentenced Fayadh to death.
Fayadh, 35, is a key member of the British-Saudi art organization. He has curated several art shows in Saudi Arabia. The recent death sentence was passed even though Fayadh repented. Often that would count to reduce the penalty. Fayadh told the Guaradian: “I was really shocked but it was expected, though I didn’t do anything that deserves death." Fayadh could still have his sentence changed by a higher court or be pardoned by King Salman.
Mona Kareem, an activist from Kuwait who leads a campaign for Fayadh's release, said the authorities promised Fayadh an appeal for years:“He was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested [in January 2014]. Then they said you must have a retrial and we’ll change the prosecutor and the judges. The new judge didn’t even talk to him, he just made the verdict.”
Some of the poet's friends think that he is being severely punished because he posted on line a video showing the Saudi religious police lashing a man in public. The most one can expect from western leaders in response to this travesty of justice is a bit of a moral tongue-lashing. Arms shipments to the Saudis will continue as usual but at a quicker pace,as supplies have been used up in Saudi bombing, mostly in Yemen. The appended video shows the religious police busy forcing a woman to leave a mall because she has no gloves on.

New UN Special Envoy to Libya flies to Tobruk for talks

- The new UN Special Envoy to Libya, German diplomat Martin Kobler, has flown to Libya for three days of talks to try and restart the UN-brokered Libya dialogue process.
As the Libya Herald notes, in a statement Kobler issued on the day he took over from his predecessor Bernardino Leon, he said ".. he would be meeting the various members of the Dialogue and the proposed presidency council as well as other Libyan key players to discuss what he called a “small number of outstanding issues”." According to the Herald, the "outstanding issues" are the names announced by Leon for posts in the proposed Government of National Reconciliation. According to the Herald:
 A significant section of the House of Representatives, mainly from the east of the country, have said that they will not accept some of the names and that the presidency council must consist of five members as originally suggested, not the nine in Leon’s final proposal.As I noted in a previous article it seems quite inappropriate that Kobler be meeting with the proposed presidency council since they have no status at all except as selected by Leon. The Herald also reports Kobler is opposed to any changes in the main text of Leon's final draft of the Libya Political Agreement(LPA). Kobler also says his talks will also be focused on security. He gives no indication of exactly how he intends to address that problem.
Another Herald report said Kobler was expected in Tobruk — where the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government is located — on Sunday. The Herald suggests Kobler will look to rebuild trust in the UN Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL). Detractors say UNSMIL stands for United Nations Sabotage Mission in LIbya.
Kobler's predecessor, Bernardino Leon, had close relations with the UAE, a strong supporter of the HoR government and General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the armed forces, who has all through the peace process carried on a military campaign against Islamists, including forces of the rival government, started back in May of 2014. Leon was in a clear conflict of interest situation but the UN did nothing and supported him until he finally left. Both the Tripoli-based General National Congress government and an American Libyan group have demanded an explanation from Ban Ki-Moon of the UN's actions in hiring and keeping him on while he had a conflict of interest. Among other conflicts, he accepted a more than $1,500-a-day job back in June in the UAE. The Herald, as mentioned, says that Kobler will likely try to rebuild trust in the UN after the distrust created by Leon.
Given that the GNC government should most distrust the UN, due to Leon's relations with the UAE, it is strange that Kobler flew to the HoR for his first talks. If he wants to create trust for the UN in the GNC he hardly will do so by saying he opposes any changes to the Leon main text. The GNC insisted that there be further amendments before they would accept the LPA. Some in the GNC want to start the dialogue from scratch again. One report says it is not clear that Kobler will even go to the capital Tripoli to consult with the GNC. It appears that Kobler is just interested in getting the HoR on board and is not worried about the GNC. The UN perhaps picked a successor to Leon whom they expect will carry on the same policy of imposing on Libya what outside forces want
As an indication that the UN is paying no attention to what is happening, the proposed head of the Government of National Accord(GNA) is in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on the fight against terrorism. There is no GNA. The LPA is widely rejected. The UN is shown to be acting in accordance with the wishes of external forces and the game goes on as usual. There must be a GNA so that foreign interests can get permission for intervention in Libya.
Some on both sides are now suggesting there should be a Libyan versus Libyan dialogue between the HoR and the GNC, without the presence of the UN. As a recent article by Jason Pack suggests, it may be time to liberate Libya from the UN. At the very least, it should be liberated from a dialogue process in which there is huge international pressure to create a government regarded as the right one by many international powers, but opposed by many if not most Libyans.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

John Kerry claims it will take a much shorter period to "neutralize" the Islamic State than it did for Al Qaeda

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters the United States would be able to "neutralize" the Islamic State or Daesh much more quickly than it was able to do so with Al-Qaeda.
Kerry told reporters:"We began our fight against al-Qaida in 2001 and it took us quite a few years before we were able to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the top leadership and neutralize them as an effective force. We hope to do Daesh much faster than that and we think we have an ability to do that,"Al-Qaeda hardly seems neutralized. Al-Qaeda-linked groups are still quite active in many parts of the world including AQAP or Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that has advanced considerably in Yemen since the Saudi-led mission against the Houthi. The Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front in Syria is one of the key rebel groups fighting against the Assad regime and also Daesh.
Wikipedia outlines the development of Daesh, ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State(IS) from an Al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq: The group originated as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004... In January 2006, it joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, which proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in October 2006. After the Syrian Civil War began in March 2011, the ISI, under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, sent delegates into Syria in August 2011. These fighters named themselves Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām—al-Nusra Front—and established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria...In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced the merger of the ISI with al-Nusra Front and that the name of the reunited group was now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). However, Abu Mohammad al-Julani and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leaders of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda respectively, rejected the merger. After an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with ISIL on 3 February 2014, citing its failure to consult and "notorious intransigence".
In one form or other the U.S. has been fighting what is now Daesh since 2004 at least already over a decade. The Islamic State as such came into existence only in 2013. It obviously had a long period of growth as part of Al-Qaeda. No doubt Kerry will want to begin counting from 2013 when he counts how long it takes to "neutralize" Daesh. Nevertheless Kerry continued to be upbeat:"President Obama has already ordered increased efforts. He has been doing that before the Paris attacks, over the course of the last months -- increased efforts, and we are seeing the results of those in ways,and I am confident that if we stay steady, keep our heads in thinking creatively, but also being strong and committed to our fundamental values, we are going to defeat Daesh."
Kerry's view contrasts with the view of retired General John Allen, Obama's envoy to the global coalition battling Daesh, who said at a forum in Doha, Qatar:“This will be a long campaign. Defeating Daesh’s ideology will likely take a generation or more. But we can and we must rise to this challenge. In an age when we are more interconnected than at any other time in human history, Daesh is a global threat.”Allen said even though he had served many years as a U.S. marine, he had never seen the types of depravity and brutality that Daesh practiced and even celebrated. He noted Daesh had lost some ground in Iraq and was weakened by airstrikes.
Richard Barrett, a former senior intelligence officer in the UK M16 intelligence agency, also held that the struggle against Daesh would take many years, perhaps generations. Barnett says that air strikes will not eliminate Daesh. While it is imaginable that attacks could weaken Daesh so much they might need to go underground, Barrett claims this would not really neutralize them:"But the idea that ISIL thrives on - the idea behind ISIL - I don’t think is going to be defeated any time soon at all, that requires much more work and a much longer term, much more generational-type struggle."Barrett claimed, as well, that the whole point of attacks such as that in Paris is to polarize society. Barrett agreed there was a very clear link between the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the rise of Daesh. Air strikes in Syria, he said, would not stop Daesh attacks in France or elsewhere and might not even reduce its capacity for attacks. Kerry appears wrong in claiming that Al-Qaeda has been neutralized and also in claiming that Daesh will be neutralized any time soon.

Peter William Bodde confirmed by US Senate as US ambassador to Libya

The United States Senate has confirmed Obama's choice as US Ambassador to Libya, Peter William Bodde. He will work out of Tunis, the capital of neighboring Tunisia.
The U.S. embassy in Tripoli has been closed for security reasons for some time. In September 2012, an attack in Benghazi, where the U.S. had a consular office, killed then-Ambassador Chris Stevens along with four other Americans. The attack was believed to be by the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia. For security reasons, U.S. diplomatic work is done from Tunis. There was no U.S. ambassador to Libya after the killing of Stevens until Deborah Jones was appointed in May of 2013.
Bodde had been serving as ambassador to Nepal since 2012, but before that he had been assistant chief of mission at the US Embassy in Baghdad. The vote in the Senate approved Bodde by a vote of 95 for to 0 against. Bodde was nominated by Obama back in July.
In other Libya news, a Libyan-American group has filed a complaint against the UN demanding it investigate circumstances surrounding the hiring of Bernardino Leon, the former UN Special Envoy to Libya. The Tripoli-based General National Congress has already demanded an explanation of the UN's actions given Leon had an obvious conflict of interest. A Washington Post article reports:Emadeddin Muntasser, co-founder of the Libyan American Public Affairs Council, told The Associated Press that Leon’s actions, including negotiating the high-paying job with the UAE while serving as mediator between Libya’s rival governments, “threaten the future of Libya.”Leon has insisted there was no conflict of interest and the UN knew of his negotiations for the UAE job paying over $1,500 a day. He accepted the job back in June and was negotiating an increase in housing allowances over the summer. The GNC has pointed out that Leon had refused to make amendments it suggested to his final draft. While he claimed amendments were not possible, he amended the document himself.
Recently, Leon has said he is reconsidering acceptance of the position until he has clarification of charges that the UAE shipped arms to the House of Representatives(HoR) government to aid their commander Khalifa Haftar — who has been carrying of a military operation against Islamists, including the GNC forces, since May of 2014. There is a UN ban on sending arms to Libya. Abdulgader al-Huwali, head of the political affairs committee of the GNC claims his organization will issue a statement to the UN that they will refuse to recognize Martin Kobler, Leon's replacement as UN Special Envoy to Libya unless the UN opens a "transparent investigation" into the hiring of Leon. Kobler says that he wants to restart the dialogue based upon work that he already been done.

US Secretary of State optimistic about Syria ceasefire

 John Kerry, US secretary of state, has given a positive assessment of efforts to negotiate a ceasefire between rebels aiming to overthrow Assad and his forces. Kerry claimed a ceasefire could be just weeks away.
Kerry claimed an agreement Saturday in Vienna for a ceasefire and talks between the Assad government and opposition groups would aid the international campaign against the Islamic State, a campaign made more urgent by the Paris attacks. The agreement in Vienna sets the date for a ceasefire much further in the future: The US, Russia, Britain, France, Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a statement supporting a 1 January deadline for the start of talks between the Syrian government and opposition, with the aim of agreeing a ceasefire by 14 May.There was no agreement on the status of Assad himself.
Nevertheless Kerry said of the Vienna agreement:“That’s a gigantic step. If we can get that done, that opens up the aperture for a whole bunch of things. We’re weeks away conceivably from the possibility of a big transition for Syria, and I don’t think enough people necessarily notice that. But that’s the reality.”Nineteen countries signed on to the agreement including rivals such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Elections would be held a year after the ceasefire agreement. No Syrians were at the Vienna meeting.
Jordan was given the task of drawing up a list of the Assad opposition groups who would be eligible to participate in negotiations. Not surprisingly, the Islamic State is barred from negotiations. However, Jabhat al-Nusra, a significant force among the anti-Assad rebels, will also be excluded due to its links to Al-Qaeda. There are a number of groups supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, as well as other Gulf States who work closely with Jabhat al-Nusra and may not be willing to abandon the group by giving up the battle against the Syrian regime.
Since the Vienna agreement leaves the status of Bashar al-Assad in limbo, many opposition groups may be unwilling to participate in talks. The western-backed Syrian National Opposition said it would not participate in talks unless there were guarantees that Assad would go. Opposition groups also worried that the vetting process could exclude other important but radical Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham.
Forty different rebel groups, in a joint statement, blame Assad for the Paris attacks and hold him responsible for the creation of the Islamic State. In contrast, Assad, in a meeting with French MPs in Damascus on Saturday, blamed the attacks on French policy saying: “The question that is being asked throughout France today is, was France’s policy over the past five years the right one?The answer is no.”France has made it clear it continues to support the opposition view that Assad must go for there to be a political settlement.

New UN Special Envoy to Libya plans to restart dialogue talks

This is the first day--November 18-- on the job for veteran German diplomat Martin Kobler as Special Envoy from the UN to Libya. Kobler takes over from Bernardino Leon, who leaves under a cloud.
Leon accepted a high-paying job in the UAE back in June while he was acting as a mediator in charge of dialogue talks between the two rival LIbyan governments. One government is the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) located in Tobruk, and the other is the General National Congress(GNC) located in the west of Libya in the capital Tripoli. The UAE strongly favours the HoR government and the commander of its armed forces, Khalifa Haftar. Emails leaked to the Guardian show Leon took directions from and communicated with officials from the UAE. Leon said he intended to weaken and discredit the GNC and increase the power of the HoR. Neither Leon nor the UN have admitted there was any conflict of interest.
Leon was able to end up with a Libya Political Agreement(LPA) that includes a Government of National Accord(GNA) but neither parliament voted on the LPA in spite of pressure from Leon, the UN security council, and the international community. The GNC wants amendments to the LPA. Leon said that was impossible and then amended it himself. The HoR issued a statement rejecting the LPA although a number of members disassociated themselves from that statement. The HoR keeps postponing votes on the LPA. This week the HoR will not meet to vote on the LPA since the president, Ageela Salah, is off to a UNESCO meeting.
Kobler worked in the past, in UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iraq as well. Kobler said he will restart talks with the rival Libyan factions in order to deal with outstanding issues related to the GNA or unity government. Kobler stressed that there should be continuity of the dialogue process and he would build on what Leon had achieved.
The announcement of Kobler's appointment appeared recently on the UNSMIL website and was discussed in a recent DJ article. Today Kobler has his own release on his immediate plans.
As part of continuing the dialogue process, Kobler indicated, within the next few days:I will listen to the members of the political dialogue and the proposed Presidency Council as well as various other Libyan partners to address and finalise the remaining small number of outstanding issues.Why would he talk to the "proposed Presidency Council"? These people have no status at all except as proposed by the UN. Both sides in the conflict have rejected many of the names. This process gets off on the wrong foot. Many will feel the UN and the international community are trying to ram an LPA down their throat to please the UN bosses in the international community who want a unity government so they can intervene in Libya with the blessing of a unity government.
Kobler then says he wants to build on the momentum to bring about an endorsement of the Libyan Political Agreement in the immediate future. What momentum? The process was stalled with the UN security council, among others, fruitlessly pressing the parties to sign on to the LPA. Perhaps Kobler should read the article by Abubakr Buera who claims Leon was wrong to press for a vote and agreement before conditions made it possible to pass the LPA. He considers voting on an LPA in the HoR at present will likely divide Libya into two if passed. Kobler needs realize that in the HoR, Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the armed forces, rejects the present draft and no doubt any draft that does not leave him as commander in chief. If the HoR were to pass an LPA that took away his job, there could very well be a military coup. How would Kobler propose to prevent that?
Perhaps, as some of the parties suggest, there should be meetings of various Libyan parties independently of the UN. In a number of areas, militia groups in the west of Libya have managed to forge agreements that involved ceasefires, providing at least a degree of security in areas formerly subject to constant clashes. Jason Pack recently wrote an article claiming Libya needs to be liberated from the UN.
Kobler says he has as another priority — the discussion of security-related issues with the various Libyan actors. This is very vague. Continuing what I call the UN non-speak protocol, Kobler gives as little information as possible. Of course there is no mention of the Leon scandal or the obvious lack of impartiality evident in the process while Leon was in charge. Kobler's conclusion follows a typical UN diplomatic template:The work of the United Nations will always be guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions and by the long-standing principles of impartiality, and upholding Libya’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

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