Interview with UN Envoy Martin Kobler on situation in Libya

The Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed on the 17th of December nearly a year ago. In an interview for the Libya Herald, Martin Kobler, head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) assesses the progress in implementing the LPA.

In an earlier interview, GNA Prime Minister and head, Faiez Serraj, had admitted that the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and its Presidency Council (PC) had failed to make progress since it had arrived in Tripoli at the end of March. Kobler defended the LPA and the GNA noting that the GNA had wide international support and forces loyal to it had successfully fought the Islamic State(IS). While Kobler is correct about the international support it has not translated into resources for the GNA to tackle its many problems. While the Al-Banyan Al-Marsous (Solid Structure or BAM) forces have virtually eliminated IS from its last stronghold in Sirte, it has mostly been achieved through brigades linked to the city of Misrata. The GNA has yet to have its own army and has failed to convince rival commander in the east Khalifa Haftar to serve under the command of the GNA. Haftar contributed nothing to liberating Sirte even though he had promised to do so.
Kobler admitted that the LPA had "implementation problems" a main problem being that the House of Representatives has failed to pass the constitutional amendment that is required to incorporate the LPA in the Transitional Constitutional Declaration of 2011. There seems to be a new emphasis on this step whereas before the emphasis was on the acceptance of the GNA through a vote of confidence. The HoR has twice voted down confidence motions in the GNA the last time being August 22. At the time a new GNA with a much smaller cabinet was to be presented within ten days. Kobler says nothing about the GNA presenting this new cabinet and here it is now December 4. He simply notes that the "HoR has accepted the LPA in principle and as a framework, and recognizes the Presidency Council". I am not sure what he means by the HoR recognizing the Presidency Council. It considers the Al-Thinni government of the HoR based in Tobruk to be the legitimate government of Libya not the GNA. Perhaps he means as part of the LPA. However, the HoR government does not believe the GNA is legally in existence until the HoR amends the constitutional declaration and votes confidence in it.
Kobler fails to mention that the HoR specifically wants section eight of the LPA deleted. The section makes the PC rather than Khalifa Haftar head of the armed forces. This is a key sticking point. As a way around the situation Kobler says: ‘‘There is a consensus by the major international stakeholders that the LPA should remain the framework of development. This does not mean that it is set in stone and it is very important that there is a process to discuss the deficiencies of the LPA." Kobler has changed his position in that he has constantly claimed that the LPA cannot be amended at least until it has been passed as it is.
Kobler said the Libya Dialogue members requested the HoR to pass the constitutional amendment. Apparently this is thought to be necessary to make the mainly advisory High State Council functional. Perhaps it is more a concern that the group have some semblance of legality. The process of their formation was highly suspect. A controversial decision by them supposedly made them the legislature of the GNA until the HoR voted confidence in the GNA.
The Libya Herald notes that the HoR is quite clearly refusing to pass the constitutional amendment. A two-thirds majority would be required to pass it. Kobler says:‘‘The political problems have to be solved. And I request the Libyan stakeholders to sit together, including members of the HoR, to pass the constitutional amendment. Or at least to say what should be done to make the LPA work.‘The problems have to be put on the table and then people can discuss it. The State Council is not functioning, the HoR is not functioning. All the institutions are not fulfilling their duties, including also the HoR.
It took the HoR six months and eight days to decide that they reject the list of the GNA members: it could have been done in a few days. Now, the HoR has, as per the LPA, the duty to fulfill. To pass the constitutional amendment and to endorse the GNA’’.
Events should have been telling the UN for a long time now that the the LPA is not working out. Kobler cannot even bring himself to mention Khalifa Haftar and the problem of section eight. Kobler wants the parties to say what changes they have in mind to the LPA. He has been told many times about removing section eight and has been told many times that the GNA cabinet is too large among other problems. Now the parties are to get together to tell the UN what they want done since of course: "We the international community are not imposing anything. It is up to the Libyans what to do." This has never been true and is unlikely ever to be true. External players have too much to win or lose, particularly with respect to Libya's oil resources, not to attempt to influence the form the Libyan government takes.
Kobler suggests that the constitutional amendment needs to be signed so that the LPA and the GNA with the PC and State High Council become part of the "constitutional setup of the country" and Libyans become owners of the LPA. But before the HoR could abolish the LPA it would be accepting it with section eight, which is not acceptable to the HoR. Why would the HoR pass an amendment that accepts an LPA they reject? There is no sign of any meeting to do so.
Kobler complains that at present there is no real owner of the LPA. Amazing, all along Kobler has justified the setting up of the GNA, the PC, moving to Tripoli etc. by reference to the LPA even though the LPA is apparently not owned, whatever that means. If the HoR passes the constitutional amendment it would become owner of the agreement. Perhaps what Kobler has in mind is that if the HoR passed the amendment it would then be the legislature of the GNA. It could then amend the LPA. However, one can imagine what would happen at the level of the PC and the High State Council if the HoR decided to make Haftar head of the GNA armed forces.
Kobler agrees that the GNA cannot continue to be protected by militia but needs a Libyan national army. The Herald pointedly asks Kobler, given that he seems to have no positive dynamic between Ageela, Haftar and the HoR, if he is part of the problem and should perhaps step aside. No doubt this is a question many would ask! Koblerreplies: ”No. I feel overwhelmed by the degree of sympathy wherever I am. In the markets, everywhere. People personally tell me you and the UN have to do more. Please stay with us. We need your support as the international community. You have to be better. Stay with us. Accompany us on this way to peace and security. And I feel this very strongly’’. He admits that some people in Tobruk might not like him. He was unable to leave Tobruk airport recently because of protests.
Kobler notes that the GNA is recruiting a Presidential Guard to help protect it. He does not mention that the previous Presidential Guard defected and is now supporting members of the former Salvation Government who are occupying the Rixos hotel facilities as part of an attempted coup. He notes that an army has to be built up and a police force as well. At the same time some way must be found to either disband militias or incorporate them into a national army or police. However, almost nothing seems to be happening along these lines. Rival militias clashed in Tripoli for several days recently as shown on the appended video.


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