So many Libyan peace plans, so little peace


IN some ways, the official photos of the African Union’s latest mini-summit on Libya said it all. Right at the front stood Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso who was hosting the meeting. To one side of him stood South African President Jacob Zuma. But at first glance there was no sign of the Libyan delegations.

Closer inspection revealed Libya’s internationally-backed Presidency Council (PC) chief Faiez Serraj craning to look over Nguesso’s shoulder. Of Ageela Saleh, the president of the elected parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR), hardly anything could be seen but the top of his head behind Zuma.

Whether Nguesso meant it or not — and if he didn’t he was extremely badly advised — he turned what ought to have been a crucial meeting about Libya into a photo opportunity for himself and Zuma. This had the effect of undermining the hard work put in by the everyday members of the AU’s High Level Committee on Libya in seeking to broker a peace deal among Libya’s deadly rivals. The new chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Lebanese academic Ghassan Salamé, was pictured standing on the edge of the group. His apparently strained expression suggested he was not particularly happy with the ill-conceived arrangement of this photo-shoot. Saleh and Serraj should have been at the front of the assembled dignitaries because they and their country were who the meeting was all about.

It was also of course also about Libya’s eastern strongman Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter. But he had chosen to boycott the mini-summit preferring that Saleh should represent the views of the east. Given that Hafter and Serraj had had an apparently successful meeting last month in Paris, organized by new French president Emmanuel Macon, this was clearly a disappointment.

But there was perhaps another reason for the look of frustration on UNSMIL chief Salamé’s face. Libya has become the subject of a series of urgent separate peace initiatives which do not appear to be coordinated through his office. The Dutch started off in June with an unexpected hosting of a meeting in The Hague between delegations from the HoR and the State Council, which under the proposed Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) would be a senior parliamentary chamber with a largely consultative role. Then came Macron’s initiative where he persuaded Serraj and Hafter to shake hands on a commitment to an immediate ceasefire, early elections and the legitimacy of an amended LPA as the basis for all negotiations.

Macron’s also unexpected diplomacy infuriated the Italians who have always regarded themselves, its former colonial power and long-standing commercial partner, as Libya’s peace broker. So angry was Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni that Serraj felt obliged to stop off in Rome on his way back from Paris for talks on the tide of illegal migrants flowing across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

There has also been a peace initiative from the Russians who appear to be now working with the French. There is a suspicion that Libyan players have been arbitraging the various international offers — with Italy now allegedly paying people-smuggling militias to suspend their loathsome trade. None of this is in the least bit helpful to Salamé who will shortly be presenting to the UN Security Council his own plan for Libya.