New divisions come forth as rival parliaments unite against ‘imposed’ Libya government

Libya’s rival governments reject delayed UN-brokered national unity deal signed today in the Moroccan resort of Skhirat • US, Russia and other Western countries are attempting to prop up the so-called Libyan National Army led by renegade general Khalifa Haftar

The leaders of the two rival Libyan parliaments met in Malta on Tuesday in an attempt to circumvent a new unity government handpicked by the United Nations, to dead-leg what they see as a US-backed government and an “imposition” on political and tribal leaders across the oil-rich country.

The agreement was signed on Thursday afternoon.

Some quarters have compared it to the puppet government the US imposed on Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. And although representatives of both parliaments participated in the UN negotiations, the majority of MPs on both sides are against the UN deal, sources have told MaltaToday.

Now, in the absence of a formal approval from the House of Representatives based in Tobruk or the General National Congress in Tripoli, the UN special envoy Martin Kobler has selected a number of other MPs and political leaders who agree with the deal to travel to Skhirat, in Morocco, to sign it, including as many as possible of the HoR and GNC members who support the deal plus party leaders and mayors.

The stage is set for new divisions that could make the UN-backed government a lame duck.

General Hafter met UN envoy Martin Kobler on Wednesday
General Hafter met UN envoy Martin Kobler on Wednesday

“We want to form a unity government but we don’t want it to be enforced from the outside,” the two leaders of Libya's parliaments said in clear reference to the signing of the UN-brokered Libya Dialogue agreement known as the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) will take place in the Moroccan resort of Skhirat today.

Sources in Libya have also told MaltaToday that the new ‘unity government’ headed by Faiez Serraj could be based in Malta since it does not enjoy the support of the majority of MPs in the two elected parliaments and has no seat of power in Libya. A senior government source could not confirm this information.

Another option would be to have the government "exiled" in Tunisia.

Malta would still be ideal base for the “exiled” government, since various bodies including the Libyan Central Bank, the Libyan Investment Authority and the Libyan communications authority are based in Malta.

The surprise Valletta meeting of Tueday between the president of the internationally recognised Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) president Aguila Saleh Issa and the president of the Islamist-controlled General National Congress (GNC) Nuri Abusahmin was held without UN approval and is thought to have angered the US government pushing for a new unity government.

Sources added that the UN-backed unity government will only add to the confusion, with the troubled North African nation already split between two rival governments and parliaments. Some 1,500 armed factions, including ISIS, are deployed across divided Libya, gripped by chaos and insecurity since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The instability has brought the production of oil to a virtual standstill and the presence of ISIS has prompted countries such as the US, France and the UK to increase their military presence inside and outside Libyan borders.

The imposed unity government has however brought the two sides together and MaltaToday understands that the US, Russia and other Western countries are attempting to prop up the so-called Libyan National Army led by renegade general Khalifa Haftar.

Sources said that the US and Russia are prepared to support Haftar as long as the general backs the new unity government and in an unprecedented move, Kobler met Hafter at the latter’s Marj headquarters on Wednesday, a meeting which the UN envoy described as “fruitful.”

Haftar – a US citizen – is seen as a divisive figure and in September Libya’s internationally recognised government’s prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni was arrested before leaving for Malta by Haftar’s forces. In 2014, he was accused by former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan described the general’s calls for a coup as "ridiculous."

The UN-backed unity government is expected to make an official demand to have the UN Security Council lift the arms embargo, with the presence of ISIS in the Libyan coastal towns of Derna and Sirte being seen as a pretext for such a move.

Photos have emerged of American special forces at the al-Wataniya airbase controlled by Haftar’s army, which has so far mainly battled against forces loyal to the Tripoli based self-declared government and Islamist militias in Benghazi.

The UN deal envisages a council which will act as Libya’s collective presidency made up of nine members, three each from Libya’s regions of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.

HoR member Faiez Serraj is set to be named prime minister while Ahmed Maetig, Fathi Majbri and Musa Koni will be nominated deputy prime ministers.

Omar Aswad and Mohamed Ammar are expected to be nominated as senior ministers.

Last month former UN envoy in Libya Bernardino Leon stepped down to take up a job in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) triggering a furious response from the country's legally installed government in Tripoli which asked the UN to investigate. 

Abusahmin accused Leon of having a conflict of interest and voiced concern that the former envoy had taken up a post in Abu Dhabi which openly backs a rival UN-recognised government in Tobruk.