Libya peace plan faces immediate rejection from rival government

The General National Congress, which controls Tripoli, says the UN-crafted road map hands all power to the internationally-recognised House of Representatives in Tobruk, John Pearson reports.

Fighters from the Libya Dawn militia alliance stand on a tank close to the Wetia military air base during clashes with forces loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government on April 28, 2015. Mahmud Turkia/AFP Photo
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PARIS // The long-awaited United Nations peace plan for Libya has been immediately rejected by one of the country’s two warring governments, leaving eight months of work in possible tatters.

Just hours after it was released, Libya’s General National Congress – which controls the capital Tripoli – turned down the draft plan, saying that it hands all power to the rival House of Representatives based in Tobruk.

The Tobruk assembly is recognised by the international community as Libya’s legitimate government and is at war with the GNC and its allied conservative militias.

GNC deputy president Saleh Makhzoum said on Tuesday that the road map, released the same day, does not meet the “aspirations of the revolutionary fighters”, including the Libya Dawn militia alliance which holds Tripoli.

Designed to persuade both sides to stop fighting and work together, the 16-page plan calls for the formation of a “government of national accord” that would have its headquarters in the capital.

UN special representative Bernadino Leon, who crafted the plan, insists that it represents “a fair and reasonable political agreement that addresses the concerns of all parties”.

He says the draft is “80 per cent agreed”.

The plan outlines a raft of councils and consultative bodies that would work in complex patterns with the regular organs of government.

But stripped of its aspirational rhetoric, Mr Leon’s draft gives a place for the House of Representatives, but none for the GNC.

The plan envisages Libya being led by a five-person strong “presidency council” – effectively an inner cabinet – made up of a prime minister, two deputies and two ministers.

Power to hire and fire this council would rest with the House of Representatives, which would remain as the country’s legislature and recognised government. It would also have power to appoint the chief of the armed forces.

The GNC, by contrast, receives no mention in the plan. Its members can expect to be included in a new state council, but that council’s role would be purely consultative.

A potential deal-breaker in any agreement is the demand that militias vacate the cities, to be replaced by regular police and army units. That army is now led by General Khalifa Haftar, one of Libya’s most polarising figures.

To his supporters, Gen Haftar, a former Qaddafi-era general who turned against the dictator and fought with the rebels in the 2011 rebellion, is a hero. He has strengthened the army which has recaptured most of Benghazi from rival militants and is now battling towards Tripoli. The GNC, meanwhile, has labelled him a terrorist.

However, with both governments insisting that they are the rightful body to run Libya, it may be impossible to craft a peace plan that keeps both sides happy.

While the Tobruk-based government says it represents the majority and was freely elected, the GNC says the supreme court ruled last year that elections to the House of Representatives were invalid.

The House of Representatives itself has yet to meet in Tobruk to discuss Mr Leon’s plan, but one insider said that members would probably be happy with its provisions, though sceptical that Libya Dawn militias would disarm – a key part of the draft.

Mr Leon warned earlier this month that the current mediation process will be the “final” one, after months of failed peace talks held in Libya, Switzerland, Belgium, Algeria and, most recently, Morocco. It is unclear what will happen if this plan continues to be rejected by one or both sides, but if the UN walks away from the process, Libya’s civil war seems set to continue.

Pressure for a peace deal has become acute. ISIL is expanding in Libya, while the mass drownings of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean has seen the European Union considering military strikes against Libyan migrant smugglers.

Among diplomats and many Libyans, the feeling is shared that both the ISIL and migration problems can only be solved if Libya’s civil war is ended. But on the evidence of the current UN peace plan, that is unlikely to happen in the immediate future.