By Libya Herald reporters.
Tunis, 29 September 2015:
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the start of UN peace talks to end Libya’s . . .[restrict]conflict, with clashes as fierce as ever.
Talks have been held in Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Turkey. The peace plan has gone through at least six drafts and four “final” deadlines have been missed.
On a sunny day on 29 September last year, United Nations Secretary General Special Representative envoy Bernardino Leon first gathered delegates at Ghadames, on the western borders with Algeria and Tunisia.
Leon, a Spanish career diplomat, was appointed as UN envoy in August 2014, as fighting raged in Tripoli.
Opening talks he declared: “We have agreed to start a political process to address all issues….with a very strong call for a complete ceasefire all over the country.”
The talks fell into two phases. First, the so-called Ghadames process, aimed to hold talks between the majority of the House of Representatives (HoR) attending sessions in Tobruk and represtenatives of some 40 boycotters, many supporters of Libya Dawn. One session was held in Tripoli, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attending to urge all sides to quickly sign a deal.
In November, in a disputed ruling, Libya’s Supreme Court ruled sections of the law relating to the HoR’s involvement in appoiting a state president were illegal. Libya Dawn insisted it meant the HoR had been abolished and authority now went back to the former parliament, the General National Congress (GNC). Some 20 members of the GNC had already announced its reformation in Tripoli. HoR members said Dawn militias had intimidated the judges.
Leon then started a new phase of talks, the Geneva process, now with the HoR on one side and GNC on the other.
Talks for 8 December failed to materialise but got underway in January in Geneva, with Leon so optimistic he commissioned a film made about a supposed breakthrough – delegates had agreed on some founding principles.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in January: “This represents a last chance which must be seized.”
It proved one of many “last chances”.
On 29 January, back at Geneva, Leon warned there would be no “immediate” success, but insisted “we are making a good progress”.
On 19 February, Leon told the UN Security Council there had been a “breakthrough”.
There was no deal, but a month later he announced talks in Morocco had entered “the decisive moment.”
On 24 March, he unveiled the so-called Leon Plan, which called for a Government of National Accord.
It proposed a complicated arrangement, with a five-strong presidential council led by a prime minister forming a unity government. This would be controlled by both the HoR and a State Council, to be made up mostly of GNC members. Powers would also be given to the 23-strong Libya Dialogue, the delegates at the peace talks sessions.
On 26 March, Leon declared “we have gone well beyond what we expected…I think all participants and all Libyans feel now very encouraged that we are really getting very close to the agreement.”
On 19 April, Leon announced the final deal was imminent: “not this coming week but the following one.’
Ten days later, with no deal, the UN Security Council set its first deadline, 17 June, the onset of Ramadan.
Talks ran through May, with Leon saying in Brussels “there is a possibility of an agreement”.
At the end of May, he said 80 percent of the peace plan had been agreed.
But deadlock followed and, on 1 June, he declared: “Libya is on the verge of economic and financial collapse.”
To stop the GNC walking out, Leon issued a fourth draft of his plan on 9 June. “All I can tell you for now is that the reaction is positive.”
This time it was the HoR which walked out, accusing him of bowing to pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Leon brought us to square one … to appease an ideological group in a horrible way,” Essa Abdel-Kauoum, a spokesman for the HoR’s negotiating team, told Associated Press. “He succumbed to extortion.”
Washington supported Draft 4, a state state department spokesperson insisting it would be “the fourth and final” draft.
The “final” final talks were arranged for Berlin for mid June.
The week before the US, UK and France circulated a plan at the United Nations calling for travel bans and asset freezes against those accused of blocking the peace deal. To ensure balance, two Libyans, one from either side, were named in the document: Zintani militia leader Otman Mlegta and Abdul-Rahman Sewehli, elected to both the GNC and the HoR but a hardline opponent of Dialogue at the time (he has since became one of the GNC’s Dialogue negiotiators).
But Russia and China said no to the sanctions plan, no deal was signed in Berlin and 17 June passed with no deal.
On 25 June, Leon opened new talks with a new deadline, the end of August.
He insisted this was “the last round, the final round of talks. We are getting closer to a solution….all the participants in the dialogue have accepted the fourth draft as a basis for a final solution.”
What emerged was a fifth draft, with State Council powers downgraded to a “consultative” role. Rejecting it, the GNC pulled out on 8 July.
On 11 July, Leon announced the “initializing” of the plan- but without the GNC. HoR delegates and the other delegates put their initials to the plan. A swathe of key players from Tripoli including Mohammed Sawan, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party, and the then mayor of Central Tripoli Al-Mahdi Al-Harati were drafted in to give it their blessing by witnessing the initialing.
Leon now began trying to get the GNC onboard, knowing a unity government composed of only one side was no unity government at all, and without GNC support there would be no chance of it going to Tripoli.
On 15 July, he was back at the UN Security Council, optimistic the GNC would join. “I am pleased to report today that this message has been heard by a number of courageous Libyan leaders who on 11 July, in Skhirat, Morocco, initialed a political agreement…As you know, the dialogue committee of the General National Congress decided not to initial this agreement.”
Four days later he said a deal was close: “I am confident that in the weeks ahead a clear decision will be made.”
In Geneva, on 11 August, he announced they would ”reach an agreement very soon.”
On 25 August, he announce a “final push” to meet the 31 August deadline.
The deadline passed with no deal.
Leon then set a new deadline, 10 September, and flew to Istanbul to meet GNC leaders.
At a press conference in Istanbul, he said he had been “discussing the different elements, different remarks, different comments and in some cases differences – and the possibilities of the different ways that UNSMIL is proposing to address these differences.”
The GNC insisted on amendments, and a new draft was made.
On 4 September Leon changed the deadline again, to 20 September, “We really have a chance to reach a final agreement in the coming days,” he said.
More talks were held in Morocco, with Leon saying: “the deadline of 20 September must be the last one.”
The deadline came with silence from the UN.
But on the evening of Monday September 21 Leon told journalists assembled in Skhirat that the plan was finished.
“We finished our work, we have a text that it is a final text,” he said to reporters.
However, it emerged neither parliament had agreed the text and had not yet seen it although foreign diplomats had. Leon said the text had still to be properly drafted in Arabic and English. It had not been released a week later.
Leon had also set a ultimate deadline, 20 October, the final day of the HoR mandate.
“We finished our work, we have a text, it is a final text. So our part in the process is now finished,” said Leon. “It is up now to the participants to react to this text…they can refuse or reject the proposal.”
The head of the HoR, Ageela Salaah Gwaider, however, told the UN this past week that the talks may well continue past 20 October. [/restrict]