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The UN envoy to Libya is recommending sanctions for anyone trying to spoil next month’s crucial talks aimed at negotiating a unity government. That government would set elections aimed at finally uniting the North African state afters years of foreign-backed conflict.
“The dysfunction has become so severe that there is an urgent need for change,” acting UN envoy Stephanie Williams said in a phone interview Friday. “And frankly you need a unified executive if you want to move toward national elections, because you need a national government to prepare for elections.”
The discussions, in Geneva in the second half of October, will take place right as the head of the western-based internationally recognized government, Fayez al-Sarraj, steps down. He announced in September that he plans to hand over power to a new government by the end of October.
Sarraj, with additional Turkish military assistance, had overseen the defense of the capital Tripoli against a 14-month offensive by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The two sides have agreed a truce, but the country remains divided.
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Williams said that Libyans on all sides have been increasingly worried about the foreign intervention that ramped up after Haftar launched his war in April 2019. Both factions relied heavily on their foreign patrons in waging the war, leaving Turkey, Russia and other countries trying to determine peace deals that lock in their interests in the oil rich state.
Libyans “are now really frightened at the complete loss of sovereignty, that there is so much foreign intervention in the country that is intolerable,” she said.
“They need to take the country back and the way to do that is through elections.”
But the talks in Geneva face doubts. Libya has been divided between rival administrations and multiple conflicts since a NATO-backed revolt ousted Moammar Al Qaddafi in 2011. Haftar launched the war last year just weeks before a UN-sponsored peace conference while the UN secretary general was visiting the country. Both Sarraj and Haftar have also faced protests against corruption and poor services, while they also have had to contend with rivals within their own camps.
With so many parties involved, in theory, any could raise blocks to the negotiations. Williams said that in her talks with Libyans, many demanded that spoilers of the upcoming talks be sanctioned. “That’s where the international community has to come in,” she said.
“The toll should be looked at for those who are seeking to disrupt the political process. That’s my message to the international community, that sanctions work.”
Williams said Libyans had also demanded in consultations that anyone taking part in the Geneva talks remove themselves from consideration for posts in the government, to avoid stalling the negotiations over conflicts of interest.
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