Libya: remove your troops to bolster new government, UN envoy tells world

Libya's new unity government shows that 'seemingly insurmountable divisions can be overcome', says UN peace envoy

epa09081981 Jan Kubis, UN Special Envoy for Libya, gives a press conference after talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (not pictured) at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, 18 March 2021. On 17 March 2021, the German government decided to extend the German Armed Forces mandate for the EU operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI created a year ago in the wake of the Berlin Libya Conference. The focus of IRINI is on the implementation and enforcement of the UN arms embargo against Libya.  EPA/Kay Nietfeld / POOL
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Pulling foreign troops out of Libya is the best way to bolster Libya’s new unity government, UN peace envoy Jan Kubis told world powers on Wednesday.

Mr Kubis told the UN Security Council that foreign fighters and mercenaries were digging defensive positions in Libya even after the formation earlier this month of a government to unite the divided country.

An estimated 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Turkey, Syria, Russia and elsewhere are still in Libya. The UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya and repeatedly urged foreign troops to exit the country.

“Their withdrawal from Libya will go a long way in reconstituting the unity and sovereignty of the country and healing the deep wounds caused by many years of internal strife, active conflict and foreign interference,” Mr Kubis said.

“Libyans from all stripes and across the political spectrum are vehemently calling for all mercenaries and foreign forces to leave the country – a call supported by the Libyan authorities and institutions.”

In his first UN Security Council address since becoming UN envoy last month, the Slovak diplomat described “ongoing fortifications and the setting up of defensive positions” along the front lines of Libya’s conflict, between the coastal city of Sirte and Jufra in central Libya.

A unity government led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah took office on March 16, replacing two warring administrations that had ruled Libya’s eastern and western regions since 2015.

Mr Kubis said the unity government and a fragile peace between east and west showed that Libya’s “seemingly insurmountable divisions can be overcome with determined political will”.

Prime Minister Dbeibah and an interim three-member presidency council were selected at UN-sponsored talks in February in an effort to end more than a decade of fighting between militias, mercenaries and foreign forces.

A road map, agreed to last year, sets December 24 for general elections in the country.

On Monday, France will reopen its embassy in the Libyan capital to signal support for the North African country’s new government, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday.

US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter on Tuesday said Washington would reopen its embassy in Libya “as soon as the security situation permits”.

Council members are reviewing a report from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about expanding a team of UN monitors to track adherence to a ceasefire in the area around Sirte.

The size and scope of the unarmed mission were “still under discussion", UN spokesman Farhan Haq said on Wednesday.

Washington’s UN envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged Libya’s interim government to quickly adopt a unified national budget and boost efforts against corruption, especially in the oil sector.

“We cannot become complacent,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield told the council.

“It’s time to press forward and to help Libya’s Cabinet with the hard work ahead of pulling the country together.”

The North African oil exporter has been ravaged by chaos and bloodshed since an uprising drew Nato intervention and led to the ousting and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.