Libya's rival sides 'sincere' about elections by year end

National Conference to take place between April 14-16, says UN envoy

The U.N. Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
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Libya's rival factions are showing a new sincerity towards peace, the UN's special envoy to the country said on Wednesday, as he announced a conference to bring parties together ahead of elections planned for this year.

Ghassan Salame told the UN Security Council that the meeting in Abu Dhabi between Libya's Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar last month had led to “a crucial juncture” that could end long-running divisions over governance.

Libya is split between those who recognise the government in Tripoli and those that back Gen Haftar’s parallel administration in the east.

Recent fighting throughout the country, however, means there is still a risk of miscalculation should the opportunity for elections slip, according to Mr Salame who spoke via video link from Tripoli.

“We are working to prevent recent developments and tensions on the ground from escalating, and instead pivot to stability and a political compact which will enable an end to the crisis in the country,” he said, referring to the meeting in Abu Dhabi between Mr Al Sarraj and Mr Haftar.

“What is new is the sincerity to turn these words into the end of the transitional period through elections.”

The EU, UN and many Libyan politicians pushed a plan to hold elections in late 2018, but international agencies had given up on the idea by November due to cycles of clashes in Tripoli. Libya has been plagued by insecurity and clashes between rival militias vying for control and influence since 2011 when an uprising led to international military support to the armed overthrow of long-time leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Mr Salame said a subsequent ceasefire agreement for the capital was continuing to hold, despite sporadic fighting.

Following the agreement to hold polls this year, made at the Abu Dhabi meeting, Libya's High National Electoral Commission is preparing for a vote. It has been in touch with the Arab League, the African Union and the EU, said the UN envoy.

A National Conference, to be held in the Libyan city of Ghadames between April 14 and 16, is a chance for all parties to put aside their differences to unite for the sake of the country and pave the way for elections, Mr Salame said.

He told reporters separately that between 120 and 150 delegates would take part and it comes following consultations and meetings in 57 towns across the country.

“We are working with many parties to ensure as broad a buy-in as possible to the political process,” he added. “If the opportunity presented by the National Conference is not seized, then we will be faced with only two possible options: prolonged stalemate or conflict.”