By Jamie Prentis.
Tunis, 18 January 2017:
UNSMIL chief Martin Kobler’s has once more been denied access to Libya, this time in Tobruk. The pilots of his UN aircraft from Tunis were today told they were not authorised to land.
A frustrated Kobler wrote on social media: “Without access [to] our Libyan partners we cannot assist. Access is particularly necessary for UN colleagues working on humanitarian and development files. How can we help the Libyan people in the east?”
Instead of Tobruk, Kobler flew on to Rome for talks with the new Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano. He commended Italy’s decision to re-open its embassy in Tripoli and said it was an important demonstration of support for Libya.
Opposition to Kobler has grown in the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. Its president Ageela Saleh claimed yesterday the British ambassador to Libya Peter Millett had told him he agreed with him that Kobler should leave his role as envoy. The embassy has not commented but it seems likely that Saleh’s assertion will be vigorously denied.
Kobler is no stranger to diplomatic rebuffs. Last March he was forced to cancel a flight to Tripoli. The National Salvation Government headed by Khalifa Ghwell had refused to grant his aircraft permission to land for “logistical reasons.” Kobler’s visit was intended to pave the way for the arrival of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Faiez Serraj.
In January 2016 Ghwell’s Foreign Media Department head Jamal Zubia humiliated Kobler when he stopped the UNSMIL chief’s press conference at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport on the grounds that Kobler had not sought permission to hold it. Zubia threatened to take action against journalists who had turned up, at which point Kobler said this should not happen and abandoned the briefing.
Last November Kobler flew in to Tobruk to find the airport picketed. He had talks in the airport with members of the HoR headed by its deputy president Emhemed Shouaib. UNSMIL insisted it had never been the plan to drive into Tobruk to hold the meeting.
Kobler’s predecessor was caught up in a similar demonstration when he flew to Tobruk for talks in March 2015.