Libya’s elected parliament rejects UN unity government proposal

Foreign minister George Vella says former Libyan UN envoy Abdel Rahman Shalgham is among favourites to lead national reconciliation government but Tobruk parliament rejects latest UN proposal

Former Libyan foreign minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham
Former Libyan foreign minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham
Special UN envoy Bernardino Leon
Special UN envoy Bernardino Leon

United Nations negotiators handed Libya’s warring factions a draft proposal for forming a reconciliation government in a last-ditch attempt to end a conflict that could plunge the country into further turmoil.

However, attempts to reach an agreement before Ramadan received a blow as the internationally recognised parliament based in Tobruk in eastern Libya rejected the proposal and withdrew from the talks aimed at ending the crippling power struggle.

Four years after former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown Libya is effectively divided, with two governments and two parliaments backed by rival militias vying for control of the oil rich country. 

In recent weeks, special UN envoy Bernardino Leon and high-ranking diplomats warned that Libya was on the verge of becoming a failed state, however talking to MaltaToday, foreign affairs minister George Vella said that the latest rounds of talks in Algeria and Morocco have thrown a lifeline to the troubled North African country.

While explaining that Malta was not present for the latest talks, Vella said “although things are very complicated there is a faint glimmer of hope.”

Vella explained that Leon and the UN have been trying to strike a balance in the draft proposal by including more demands by the self-declared Tripoli government and there seemed to be some form of consensus on the need to form a unity government before Ramadan, which commences on 17 June.

According to Vella the former Libyan UN envoy Abdel Rahman Shalgham is being touted for the role of prime minister in a unity government which would bring the two warring factions together.

Shalgam served as Gaddafi’s foreign minister for nine years before being appointed as Libya’s representative at the United Nations Security Council in 2009. He remained Libya’s ambassador to the UN up to 2011 and after initially supporting the Gaddafi regime during the popular uprising in February 2011, Shalgam denounced the Libyan regime in an emotional speech before the UN Security Council.

Reportedly, Shalgam was the only name the two factions could agree upon during the talks in Morocco, however in recent hours the UN’s attempts to broker a deal were dealt a severe blow.

On Monday the internationally recognised Tobruk parliament banned its delegates from travelling to Germany for a proposed meeting with European and North African leaders to discuss Leon’s proposal, lawmaker Tareq al-Jouroushi said.

“A majority of deputies voted to reject the proposal,” he said by telephone from Tobruk, an eastern city where the House of Representatives is based. 

Leon submitted his fourth proposal for a unity government on Monday and delegates from both factions had been expected to head to Berlin before returning for consultations and then travelling to Morocco for further talks.

Speaking hours before the Tobruk government’s snub, Leon said that the warring factions have reacted positively to the draft deal he proposed. “We have distributed, as you will have seen, a new proposed agreement. All I can tell you for now is that the reaction is positive,” Leon told journalists in the Moroccan seaside resort of Skhirat.

The draft UN proposal calls for a year-long government of national unity, made up of a council of ministers headed by a prime minister with two deputies holding executive authority.

Jouroushi said lawmakers objected to including the Tripoli parliament in the proposal. 

“The proposal does not reflect the legitimacy of the elected parliament,” he said.

The House of Representatives will be the only legislative body, the deal states. The accord also calls for a 120-member State Council consultative body, consisting of members of the Tripoli parliament.

Both sides in the conflict are under pressure from hardliners who favour a military solution.

Jouroushi is the son of the eastern government’s air force commander, whose force has been battling Islamists in Benghazi.

The ongoing conflict has battered Libya’s oil industry and allowed Islamic State militants to exploit the security vacuum and expand.

In the central city of Sirte, Islamic State seized a power plant on the western outskirts, killing three members of a force sent from Tripoli to protect the plant, a military source said.

The militants had already seized the city and its airport to the south.

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