The UN brokered Libyan negotiations ended this week on Wednesday after two days of dialogue between the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). These recent talks were the first since an agreement on July 11, 2015.
That agreement was initialed by all parties– including HoR, independents, HoR representatives who have boycotted HoR meetings, elected leaders of municipal councils — except representatives of the Tripoli based General National Congress, dominated by the so-called Libya Dawn coalition of Islamists and militias from the western parts of Libya.
Dr. Abubakr Buera has been one of the key participants in the UN-sponsored talks, now in their tenth month trying to form a government of national accord in Libya. The country has been for the past year divided into two parts, with two parliaments, two governments and frequent fighting that has taken the lives of over 2000 people and displaced over half a million.
While the world has focused on the rapid and startling rise of the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, and the formation of a coalition of about 60 countries led by the United States to control it, the Islamic State has quietly established a foothold in Libya, first in Derna then last month openly in Sirte, hometown of former dictator Gaddafi. Sirte is close not only to Libya’s main oil region with the largest oil reserves in Africa, but also very close to Europe’s southern border on the Mediterranean.
We wanted to get Dr. Buena’s perspective on the UN sponsored talks, current events and prospects for peace in this strategically located and troubled country.
Libyan peace talks resumed this week in Geneva between the General National Congress in Tripoli and the internationally recognized parliament HoR located in Tobruk. Can you please discuss the peace talks and what both parties are aiming to achieve?
Of course, the aim of both parties must be the achievement of a generally agreed upon peace deal that would immediately help solve the current Libyan conflict. Here some problems arise: first, the GNC president, in his recent letter to Mr. Leon, stresses that the GNC delegates are in Geneva only to look into the mechanisms of how to respond to GNC’s demands to amend the draft initially signed at Skheirat, Morocco on July 11. Secondly, HoR requires that GNC delegates should initially sign the draft before they are allowed to take part in the talks again; and thirdly, we as HoR team would have strong reservations regarding adding representatives of the political parties to the general dialogue track in the current meeting.
The HoR government located in Al Bayda is the internationally recognized government of Libya, but yet the UN and the international community seem to continue to put pressure on both parties to come to the negotiating table. How do you perceive the international community’s pressure on Libya and the Libyan people to have a peace deal between the rival parties? How do the Libyan people view the two different parties?
In order to help alleviate the general Libyan population the hardships that they are facing now, HoR accepted to negotiate with the GNC. However, we do not accept the intransigence in the attitudes of some GNC leadership. Most of the Libyan people, as we see it, would not like to see any significant political role given anew to the unpopular political parties trying to re-appear on the political scene.
Do you think a peace deal is possible given the recent actions by the GNC to refuse the peace deal that Tobruk agreed to?
Reaching such a deal will basically depend on the general resolve of the international community to do so. Unless pressure is applied to the GNC and their allies, it will be very difficult to hammer down any significant peace deal.
There is currently a UN embargo on the Libyan government and military from receiving any arms or military equipment in their fight against the Islamic State. How has this arms embargo affected the security situation in Libya in the war against Islamic State?
The current arms embargo on Libya is deeply hampering HoR and its allied armed forces to combat terrorism in Libya effectively; had it not been for such an embargo, ISIS forces should have been eradicated from Libyan cities a long time ago. Just a few days ago, the people of Sirte rose up against the tight control of ISIS in their city. ISIS reacted with familiar brutality and killed and beheaded many people in the city who were up against a well-organized, well-funded and well-armed IS fighters. The national army was still fighting extremists in Benghazi. It needs more weapons to deal with the growing strength of ISIS. An immediate lift of this embargo should be enacted soon, with some international safeguards to prevent filtering of the provided arms to the terrorist groups,
The formation of a government of national accord is a first step to reconciliation. How long would it take this government to settle in Tripoli and what enforcement powers will it need to become effective? Will United Nations peacekeeping forces be necessary to support it?
Again, the role of the international community is still vague regarding this issue. We all agreed from the first days of the talks that UNSMIL team will have a security track dealing with this issue; so far the results seem to be minimal, and this would hamper urgent efforts to set up a national accord government in Tripoli soon.
If the security track talks succeed, then there will be no need to bring any non-Libyan forces into the country.
As many as 1 million Libyans are internally or externally displaced. They represent humanitarian as well as security crises for Libya. How can their problems be handled? How far has national reconciliation gone?
This problem is big. We are deeply concerned about the many Libyans who escaped out of fear or were forced to leave their homes and livelihood due to fighting and risk to their lives. These are Libyan families– men, women and children– most of whom live under terrible humanitarian conditions inside and outside the country. Libya needs help to alleviate the plight and suffering of these people. Throughout our UN-sponsored talks during the past year or so, we have been urging the international community to come to the help of these unfortunate people, but to no avail. All our appeals sadly fell upon deaf ears. Not any significant humanitarian hand has been extended to these people despite their very miserable conditions.
As far as national reconciliation efforts go, a national reconciliation act has been hurriedly passed by HoR; I am not sure how effective that Act would be. It is a first step, but it needs to be made more effective and comprehensive.
The south of Libya has witnessed fierce fighting among tribes. Can you describe the situation there? What can a central government do?
The south of Libya has been suffering from so many accumulating problems for years, on top of which are insecure borders that lead to foreign elements’ infiltration into the country. This a major cause for the outbreak of violence into that region. Libya has over 5000 kilometers of borders with 6 countries plus about 2000 kilometers on the Mediterranean. These borders have been open to terrorist groups, arms flow, drug trade and illegal immigration into Libya and into Europe. Securing Libya’s borders should be a major priority of the proposed new government. The UN, the European Community and neighboring countries can play a major role here. Their help will be necessary.
You have been through many rounds of UN-sponsored talks. How has the atmosphere evolved in these rounds?
The talks have been interrupted from time to time by attempts of extremists from both sides to derail the peace process. I think we have achieved a great deal under very difficult conditions. Our focus has been to put an end to divisions, fighting and bloodshed, to design a framework to build a strong and effective government, to put Libya on the right track to security, development and prosperity, and to give the Libyan people a real opportunity for a bright and peaceful future. I am looking forward to more progress.
We have a difficult task ahead of us in Libya. Over the past few years, many cities have been destroyed in fighting and over a half million people displaced. We have to rebuild these cities and achieve national reconciliation for people to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. There are terrorist groups we have to fight. They have taken over major cities even regions in the country. We have militias that we must integrate into society. We have to build our military, security and intelligence sources. We have to protect our borders to prevent arms and drug smuggling as well as free movements of terrorist groups and illegal emigration. We have to build our economy and create employment for about a million people now idle, in militias, or in the bloated civil service sector. We have to modernize our economy and our outdated government administration. The Libyan people are suffering through scarcity of basic commodities such as flour, rising prices, delayed salaries, power outages that are reaching 12 hours per day and more, long lines on bread bakeries and gasoline stations, poor medical care and scarcity of medicines, insecurity, rising crime and street gangs, etc. A government of national accord is only a first step.
Libya can become an island of security and prosperity in a troubled region. It can live in peace and harmony with its African neighbors and also its European neighbors to the north. I have faith in our people, in their ability to put differences behind them and their unity to rebuild their country.
Dr. Abubakr Buera has a bachelor’s degree in Economics with specialization in Accounting and Management from the University of Libya. He obtained a Master’s degree in International Management from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and Doctorate degree in Management and Administration from the University of Missouri.
Dr. Buera was elected to the House of Representatives (HoR) in June 2014. He was first to call for the House to convene in Tobruk, since fighting was taking place in Tripoli after the Muslim Brotherhood, its allied supporters and militias, mainly from Libya’s third largest city of Misrata, refused to recognize the HoR and eventually overran Tripoli in August 2014, reconvening the defunct General National Congress (GNC) and forming a so called Government of National Salvation, both of which failed to get any international recognition. Dr. Buera has represented the HoR in the UN-sponsored talks aiming to unify the country through forming a Government of National Accord. He played a key role in these talks and was instrumental in securing HoR approval to the agreement reached on July 11, 2015.
Tera Dahl is Executive Director of the Council on Global Security.