US government holding Libya conference in Malta

With Tripoli occupied by Islamist-led Libya Dawn, and suffering power and water cuts and this week, United States holds 'working-level internal conference' on assistance to country

The US government is holding a conference in Malta to discuss assistance to Libya, a US embassy spokesperson told MaltaToday.

While denying reports of a “big conference” being organised by the US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, at the end of September, the spokesperson confirmed that the US is holding a conference this week in Malta.

“There are no high-level meetings on Libya scheduled to be held in Malta at this time. There is a long-planned, working-level, US government-internal conference on assistance to Libya taking place this week in Malta. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss how best to engage in Libya,” the embassy spokesperson said.

Last week, the Paris-based Maghreb Confidential, an online newspaper specialising in North African politics and business, reported that, “Malta has emerged as the most important place to discuss Libyan affairs”.

In the report, entitled ‘Malta as Libya’s new capital’, the newspaper said that Ambassador Jones, who has been stationed in Malta following the suspension of the US diplomatic mission in Tripoli, “is working to organise a big conference of Libya’s partner countries”.

According to the report, a conference room was reserved in one of the two Le Méridien hotels in Malta and Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella “is actively backing Jones’s initiative”.

However, speaking to MaltaToday, Vella said that the report published by the Maghreb Confidential was “speculative”, adding that there is no concrete plan to hold a high-level conference.

But Vella did not rule out the conference completely, saying that “everything is possible” and that Malta would be more than happy to co-host such a conference.

Moreover, the report said that the British ambassador, Michael Aron and David Cameron’s special envoy, Jonathan Powell “have also withdrawn to the island" although this was not confirmed by the British High Commission.

MaltaToday can confirm that Powell and Aron were in Malta last week to hold a number of meetings but the UK ambassador to Libya is currently based in Tunis.

Vella confirmed that he had lengthy meetings with Jones and special envoy Powell last week and said that all parties “shared a lot of common ground” in addressing the Libyan crisis.

Islamist control in Tripoli

The Libyan capital, currently occupied by the Islamist-led Libya Dawn, is suffering power and water cuts and this week Human Rights Watch reported a series of house-burnings and attacks on ethnic minorities and journalists across the capital.

Islamist-allied militias led by the Misrata clan have cemented their control in Tripoli after the worst spell of violence since rebels ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

On Tuesday, French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “we must act in Libya and mobilise the international community,” adding that France could move troops it has from nearby countries towards the Libyan border.

Following the Misrata coalition’s takeover of Tripoli from the government-supported Zintani militias, Libya has two parliaments, two governments and two prime ministers.

The fighting began after the June elections, in which Islamist candidates lost the majority they held in the previous parliament, and renegade general Khalifa Hifter began a military campaign against Islamist-allied militias in Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi.

Meanwhile, fighters from the western region of Zintan and Misrata to the east of Tripoli, former allies during the NATO-backed campaign to oust Gaddafi, fell out and turned parts of Tripoli into a battlefield.

In late August, Libya’s former parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), appointed a new prime minister in a move which deepened the country’s political division, as warring factions vie for control of the oil-rich nation.

The GNC reconvened in Tripoli and elected Islamist-backed Omar al-Hassi as prime minister, in an attempt to replace the House of Representatives which was elected in June, effectively ending the political dominance that factions linked to the Muslim Brotherhood had in the previous legislature.

However, Malta and the rest of the international community recognise the House of Representatives as the legitimate Libyan parliament.

Tobrouk parliament convened on ferry

This week, a Greek car ferry was hired as a last-minute base for Libya’s embattled parliament, which fled the country’s civil war to the small eastern town of Tobruk, scene of a pivotal battle in World War II.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, President of the House of Representatives Ageela Saleh and the Chief of Staff, Major-General Abdulrazzak Nazhuri, jetted out to the United Arab Emirates to explore ways the Emirates can support Libya in the present crisis.

Last month, the Pentagon said the UAE and Egypt were behind the air strikes against Libya Dawn in Tripoli, creating more tensions in the region.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the big Gulf players, have each taken a side, Qatar for the Islamists, the Emiratis for the nationalists, increasing the tension in the volatile region.

Al-Thinni, who has been entrusted with forming a new government, has an arduous task ahead of him, given the difficulties in uniting the country against the Islamist-led coalition.

Although the Islamists are not the biggest faction in Libya they are united and better organised. On the other hand, the various tribes opposed to them are fractured along historic fault lines, some dating back centuries.

Uniting these tribes and persuading Islamist factions to end their boycott of the HoR is likely to determine whether Al-Thinni can lead the country out of the chaos and become a vibrant democracy.