On Monday, the Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Libya, Stephanie Williams, stated that Egypt was playing an important role in finding a political solution to the Libyan crisis. She said that the Cairo meetings to unify the Libyan military are an important and fundamental move. Those meetings can act as a strong basis that can be referred to, if a political agreement is reached between the warring parties.
In an interview with the Youm7 newspaper, Williams confirmed that the UN mission is very concerned about the presence of mercenaries, foreign forces, and advanced weapons’ flows to Libya. She pointed out that supporters of the former Libyan regime have a remarkable presence on the ground and a desire to join the political process.
Williams also revealed the nature of discussions held during the 5+5 Military Committee’s meetings to create a demilitarised zone in Sirte and Al-Jufra. She noted that what is happening in Tripoli confirms the need to return to political dialogue as soon as possible, and highlights the need to hold politicians accountable.
“The Libyan crisis has reached a delicate stage. Egypt, as a neighboring country to Libya has great weight in the region as a whole, as it has historical relations with Libya, and has continuous relations with the Libyans,” Williams said. She pointed out that she has held very important consultations in Cairo with a number of officials. She also discussed with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, regarding the Libyan crisis. “Egypt has a very important role and we are trying to work together to find a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis. I express my gratitude and thanks to President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi for his tweet welcoming the ceasefire agreement in Libya, which was recently announced by Parliament Speaker Ageela Saleh, and Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj,” she said.
Highlighting the results of the Egyptian efforts to unify the Libyan military, Williams said that “there were six preparatory meetings for the Berlin Conference and the topic of unifying the Libyan military was a focus of all those meetings.”
She indicated that delegations of the Government of National Accord (GNA), and the Libyan National Army (LNA), had reached a number of important points of agreement, during the 5+5 talks. This includes the need to respect Libyan sovereignty, affirm the unity of Libya, and the complete removal of foreign forces and mercenaries after the ceasefire agreement. It also requires a ceasefire monitoring mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations.
“There was an agreement to continue the work of confidence-building measures between the two sides, including the release of prisoners, detainees, and the delivery of bodies. These steps are important for building confidence, and facilitate the activation of the political process,” Williams added.
According to Williams, they also agreed to discuss other topics to activate security arrangements, improve the performance of the security services, withdraw weapons from armed militias, and reintegrate them into the military and security forces. “The main goal of the political process is to find a radical solution to the crisis, that can be summarized in unifying Libyan institutions, especially since Libya is currently witnessing the division of the Central Bank, the executive authority, as well as the Libyan armed forces, and non-unified security forces.”
The UN official stressed the need for professional military, security, and border guarding, as well as the unification of the Interior Ministry, in order to carry out security work inside the country.
Williams confirmed that political dialogue continues, especially given the “very big dose of hope” provided by Al-Sarraj and Saleh’s ceasefire agreement. She expressed UNSMIL’s belief that political dialogue will resume too.
She also pointed to the severe economic crisis continuing since 2011. “The economic outlook in the world is bad, but in Libya, it is getting worse. The reason is the armed conflict in the country that has lasted for 9 years, and the almost complete collapse of the infrastructure, especially in water, electricity, services, and the oil sector,” she said.
“There is a severe financial crisis, and the value of the Libyan Dinar has decreased on the black market in light of an economic and governance crisis. There is an inability to provide services, there are people who live 20 hours without electricity and water. All of this is amid the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the country, as hospitals do not have the capacity to do their job properly,” Williams explained.
Regarding security, Williams confirmed that the situation is tense, despite the calmness of the front lines. “We are concerned about the continuation of sending mercenaries, foreign forces, and highly advanced weapons to Libya. These violate the UN resolutions, and Libyan sovereignty on a daily basis,” she said.
“The truth is that Libya is an international story in which the voice of the Libyan people has disappeared. They do not feel that their voice is heard in the crisis, but rather is disappearing, and what we have now is an opportunity, because for the first time there is an expression of the Libyans’ desires, and their opinions on their situation,” the UNSMIL head said.
Williams stressed that the political solution and dialogue must be Libyan-led, and this is what was sought after the Berlin Conference, which was reflected in Security Council Resolution 2510. “The framework for the political process in Libya is the Skhirat Agreement of 2015. The Berlin Conference noticed gaps in the political agreement, so what do we do in this framework?” she asked. Williams pointed out that this was first observed by the former envoy Ghassan Salame, when he proposed an action plan. This plan noted that the Skhirat agreement left out some very important groups from politics.
“We now have several frameworks, including the Berlin outputs, the roadmap of the former envoy Ghassan Salame, and the suggestion of Ageela Saleh, which was elaborated in the Cairo Declaration. We also have Al-Sarraj’s proposal to implement elections next March,” Williams said.
She pointed out the matter is clear because the mission sees the need for a modification in the executive body and a transitional phase, “but the problem is that it is extended, because the last transitional phase continued for nearly 5 years. This is a note that must be paid attention to, in any future action plan.”
“Everyone should be aware that any new transitional phase must end with elections, and this is a path we are going through. To reach the transitional phase there must be a government, a Prime Minister, and a Council of State, and Representatives to carry out the role assigned to them. There is a necessity to amend the Presidential Council, but it is the Libyans sitting at the table who will put the final touches on the next roadmap,” Williams explained.
About the disarmament of Sirte and Al-Jufra, Williams confirmed that it was discussed during the 5+5 talks. She noted that “the positive thing now is that calm has prevailed on the battlefronts for more than two months. Egypt played a very good role in this regard, and can continue to play the role by inviting everyone to avoid escalation and maintain calm, thus helping us to seriously return to the negotiating table.”
The envoy expressed a direct concern for the central region “because the impact on civilians will be catastrophic.” She indicated that the city of Sirte has witnessed successive battles since 2011, and further fighting should be avoided, “as there are approximately 130,000 civilians in Sirte, and they are now exposed to direct danger. These residents will turn into displaced persons, and will add to the 400,000 internally displaced people currently in Libya who are receiving international aid, including from the United Nations.”
“Another source of concern for the mission is the oil crescent region adjacent to Sirte, which includes 60% of the oil production capacity of Libya. We want to protect this area from destruction because its reconstruction will extend for generations, and therefore the resumption and export of oil must be allowed,” Williams said. She pointed out that the ceasefire agreement is aware of this proposition and agrees to resume oil production, and devise a new mechanism to control the disbursement of oil revenues. Accordingly, nothing would be spent until a political agreement is reached, thus satisfying all parties.
“We believe that oil revenues should be in the account of the National Oil Corporation (NOC), and there should not be an account outside of Libyan control. This proposal is contrary to Libyan sovereignty, and it is not the proposal of the UN mission, but it is supported by Al-Sarraj and Ageela Saleh,” she added. “Our vision is that the revenues remain with the NOC, until an agreement is reached for a political solution, acceptable to both parties to return the funds to the Central Bank.”
“There is a problem in Libya that lies in the excessive focus on personalities. We want the focus to be on institutions, and not people because they are fleeting. We want to focus on unifying and reforming institutions, and enjoying transparency and accountability. There must be accountability for the political class, and these are the components of the political prescription that can bring Libya to a safe shore,” Williams concluded.