UN-led Talks in Libya HaltedOctober 2, 2014 in Libya, United Nations
2 October– The group Fajr Libya (Dawn of Libya) has rejected UN-led talks that have called for a cease-fire in the struggling nation. Fajr Libya, an Islamist group based out of Misrata, took control of Tripoli and the country’s top religious body, Dar al-Ifta, in September. The battle for Tripoli caused nearly 25,000 residents to flee their homes and caused foreign nationals to evacuate the nation. Fajr Libya reinstated the outgoing government– Islamist dominated General National Congress (GNC) – forcing the House of Representatives, the newly elected and internationally recognised government, to operate from Tobruk. The move created two rival and hostile centres of government power, both of whom consider the other to be illegitimate.
Fajr Libya’s rejection of UN-brokered talks came after a day or attempted reconciliation on in Monday in Libya’s south-western town of Ghadames. UN mission chief Bernardino Leon described the first day as “positive” and “constructive.” After Monday’s talks, both sides had agreed on the need for a ceasefire, for humanitarian aid for victims of clashes in Tripoli, and to work to reopen airports closed by fighting.
On Tuesday, however, momentum was halted after Dar al-Ifta, led by hard-liner al-Sadek al-Gharyani, announced that Libya’s “clerics demand the suspension of talks with the Tobruk parliament.” The suspension is pending a Supreme Constitutional Court on the legitimacy of the House of Representatives, and whether the Tobruk-based government violated the constitution by calling the militias “terrorists” and asking for international intervention. The body no one has “the right to negotiate” with Tobruk-based lawmakers because they deviated from the principles of Islam and Libya.
The Tripoli-based Supreme Constitutional Court is supposed to rule next month, but diplomats fear it will not be able to issue an independent verdict as it is controlled by Fajr Libya.
The Fajr Libya coalition has since denounced the dialogue and declared that it was continuing with its “military operations.” The group posted on their Facebook page that the way to end the fighting is to “disarm its rivals and hunt down their leaders.” Similarly, the eastern based Shura of Benghazi Revolutionaries issued a similar statement rejecting the initiative as “unfair”.
These moves underscore the polarisation that has divided the nation since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. From Tobruk, the new government has denounced Fajr Libya, calling the assault on Tripoli an act of terrorism. The group passed a resolution to disarm militias controlling the capital.
In the next move, the UN seeks to meet with the boycotting militias to reignite talks. Bernardino Leon seeks to get militias out of the main cities, and then to “reorganize the security in the country with an army.” Fajr Libya has not made comment on the attempts by the UN, However one Misrata based representative said, “We have to comply to what the Dar al-Ifta has called for.”
Meanwhile, a former Libyan militia leader, Abdelhakim Belhadj, has put himself forward as the “saviour” for Libya. Belhadj is a self-described former jihadi who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden when the group had the backing of the US. Belhadj claims he was later abducted and “rendered” by the CIA, but vehemently disavows any ties to Al Qaeda “as organization or even as an ideology.”
Currently, Belhadj is the leader of Libya’s conservative al-Watan party. While he does not have great electoral success, he does have great influence among the militia groups. He says he supports negotiations between the opposition parties, and backs the exiled government in Tobruk. He states, “We have to unite around one goal, which is a democratic state, and to build relationships with other countries based on mutual trust and mutual respect […] The growth of terrorism now is something that we oppose strongly and we will make every effort to deal with it in a way that is in line with the vision of the majority of Libyans.”