UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations chief urged Libya’s political rivals on Wednesday to preserve peace “at all costs” and quickly agree on legal changes so elections can take place because there is a question of government “legitimacy that now becomes extremely difficult to overcome.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also strongly encouraged world powers and countries that have interests in the North African country to meet again in Berlin, saying previous conferences of key players were “the most useful international instrument that we had to avoid the worst.”
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The oil-rich North African county has for years been split between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
The country’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections in December 2021 and the refusal of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah who led a transitional government to step down. In response, the country’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, who has for months sought to install his government in Tripoli.
U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo warned the Security Council on Aug. 30 that failure to resolve Libya’s political crisis and hold delayed elections poses a growing threat in the country, pointing to recent violent clashes that killed at least 42 people and injured 159 others, according to Libyan authorities.
She said the clashes between armed groups supporting the rival claimants to be prime minister involved the indiscriminate use of medium and heavy weapons and displaced 50 families, significantly damaged five health facilities, and affected two detention centers for migrants and refugees involving a total of 560 people.
Secretary-General Guterres told a news conference Wednesday that it’s difficult to know what the biggest challenge is for his recently appointed new envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, a former Senegalese minister and U.N. diplomat whose selection after a nine-month search amid increasing chaos in the country has already been opposed by Dbeibah.
The U.N. chief said preserving peace between east and west, and avoiding confrontations like the recent ones in the capital Tripoli between militias supporting Dbeibah and Fathi, are “fundamental.”
Guterres called on the east-based House of Representatives and the High Council of State, an advisory body based in the capital of Tripoli, to agree quickly on legal changes so elections can be held.
The Dec. 24 presidential vote was postponed over disputes between the rival factions on laws governing the elections, and controversial presidential hopefuls. Lawmakers have argued that the mandate of Dbeibah’s government ended on Dec. 24.
Guterres said another challenge is to make sure that “all external actors” support a process of reconciliation as well as political developments leading to elections, and “a legitimate government that everybody accepts.”
The secretary-general responded to a question about the importance of reviving the Berlin process, saying “I think it is very important.”
He said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock “already indicated that Germany will be thinking about that possibility, and I strongly encourage that.”
At the first Berlin conference in January 2020, then German chancellor Angela Merkel hosted leaders of 11 countries and Libya’s two main rival leaders in the German capital. They agreed to respect a much-violated arms embargo, hold off on military support to the warring parties and push them to reach a full cease-fire.
At the last Berlin conference in June 2021, where Germany and the United Nations brought together 17 countries, Libya’s transitional leadership headed by Dbeibah underlined its commitment to Dec. 24 elections. Powers involved in Libya recommitted to refraining from interfering in Libya’s internal affairs and stated that foreign forces and mercenaries need to be withdrawn “without delay” — something on which there has been very little progress to date.
Guterres said that unfortunately “it was impossible to reach a full solution” to Libya’s political crisis through the Berlin process, “but it was possible to avoid the worst” and he supports another Berlin conference.