UN extends Libya mission by three months amid dispute over new envoy

Russia objected to one-year extension in bid to press UN chief to quickly name next head of UNSMIL

The UN Security Council approved a three-month extension of the UN Support Mission in Libya on April 29. AP Photo
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The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to extend the UN political mission in Libya for three months after Russia objected to a one-year extension supported by other members.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow wanted only a three-month extension to pressure UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to quickly appoint a new special representative to head the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The former UN special envoy, Jan Kubis, resigned on November 23 after 10 months in the job.

Mr Nebenzia said in the absence of a new envoy, the UN mission “has been unable to provide substantial support for the political process in Libya for more than six months”.

He blamed some unidentified members of the Security Council who he claimed were "not ready to accept a scenario where UNSMIL is guided by an African representative”.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, who oversaw negotiations on the resolution, said after the vote “Russia has once again isolated itself by not joining consensus with the 14 other members of the council” who supported a one-year substantive mandate.

US Deputy Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said a short mandate “severely complicates” the UN’s ability to recruit a new head of the mission and “creates uncertainty for the Libyan people and their leaders over the Security Council’s commitment to Libya”.

Mr DeLaurentis also criticised Russia for eliminating “critical language on reconciliation and security sector reform” which the council’s three African members were pushing to include in the resolution adopted on Friday.

The UNSMIL mandate was due to expire on Saturday after receiving a three-month extension in January.

Libya plunged into turmoil after dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled and killed in an uprising in 2011. The country became divided between rival governments based in the capital, Tripoli, and in the eastern city of Tobruk, each supported by different militias and foreign powers.

A failed attempt to seize Tripoli by eastern forces was followed by a UN-brokered ceasefire in October 2020 and the formation of a transitional government in February 2021 to oversee elections scheduled for December. Failure to hold the elections has created a new rift.

The eastern-based House of Representatives in February named former interior minister Fathi Bashagha to lead a new interim government, saying the mandate of interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who is based in Tripoli, expired when the election failed to take place. Mr Dbeibah insists he will remain prime minister until elections are held.

Week-long talks between the rival sides in the Egyptian capital ended on April 19 without an agreement on constitutional arrangements for elections.

After Mr Kubis resigned, Mr Guterres appointed American diplomat Stephanie Williams, a fluent Arabic speaker who served as deputy UN special representative in Libya from 2018-2020, as his special adviser and sent her to Tripoli. She oversaw the agreements on the ceasefire and transitional government and told reporters after the meeting in Cairo the two sides had agreed to reconvene in May.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Ms Williams, whose contract is set to expire, was expected to continue in her role “until we have any further notice to give you”.

The three African members of the Security Council, Gabon, Kenya and Ghana, issued a joint statement calling for the synchronised withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, and for the UN, the African Union and international partners to support a national dialogue and reconciliation in the country.

Gabon’s UN Ambassador Michel Biang, who read out the statement, stressed that since the situation in Libya mainly affects the country’s African neighbors, Africans should be involved in the search for a solution and the next UN special envoy should be an African.

Norway’s Deputy UN ambassador Trine Heimerback said the council’s failure to agree on a substantive mandate for the Libya mission “not only sends an unfortunate signal to the Libyan people but also to the whole region".

With reporting from Associated Press

Updated: May 01, 2022, 11:35 AM