By Sami Zaptia.
London, 28 February 2020:
As projectiles rained in on Tripoli overnight and in a 6-hour spell from 7 am to 1 pm today, UNSMIL head Ghassan Salame today tried to salvage the Libyan Political Track talks held in Geneva 26-28 February. They are part of Ghassan Salame’s ‘‘Three Track’’ approach to the Libyan crisis with the economic and military tracks being the other three.
Projectiles numbering anything from 40-100, taken for granted in Tripoli to have been fired by the Khalifa Hafter forces, were reported to have fallen on various parts of Tripoli in an indiscriminate manner today. Residents reported it was one of the worse single days of being under fire in a long time.
Abusleem, the area around Rixos hotel, the area surrounding Mitiga and Mitiga airport itself took the heaviest pounding. Passengers at Mitiga were terrified and forced to abandon their baggage as the airport was closed for the umpteenth time in recent months.
UNSMIL had condemned the bombing earlier in the day.
The talks had been officially condemned by both the internationally recognized Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the internationally recognized Tripoli based High State Council. Members of both entities that travelled or took part in the Geneva talks were deemed by these bodies to be there on a personal basis.
Here is Salame’s full press conference in Geneva at the end of the boycotted political track Libya talks:
UNSMIL head Ghassan Salame: As you know, UNSMIL has started three tracks in application of the Berlin conclusion and of Resolution 2510.
- The first one is going well, and its next meeting is on March 15th, that is the Economic and Financial.
- The second one ended last Sunday, here, it was the military one. At the end of the military track, also called the 5 + 5 track, the Mission has put together a draft proposal for the two sides to take home and show it to their principals, hoping the principals would accept it or express some observations on it. We will see.
- Then, there is the third track, the political track. The political track was schedule for the 26 of this month. Everything was agreed, the principals and the individuals invited, and everybody was coming. We were surprised the day the meeting was supposed to start that some people had to leave because they were asked to. However, those who stayed decided that the occasion was too rare and precious and therefore that the political track should start with those who stayed in Geneva. We had three days of fruitful discussion, and the Mission has been active in putting together the terms of reference for this track, and the also the agenda for this track and we will certainly call for a next round and certainly do our utmost to convince those who did not show up or returned after reaching Geneva to discuss with them the reasons for their absence.
Before everything else, I would like to say that the country in the past 24 hours had seen has witnessed a very serious violation of the truce. In fact, it could have been almost a breakdown of that truce with many areas being hit by shelling. The airport of Tripoli was hit at 7 o’clock in the morning. Yesterday at 5 p.m. in the afternoon one single family in Garabulli lost five of its members in a shell. And, today, many areas in the capital have been also shelled. It is clear that neither one of the three tracks can move positively while the cannon is doing what it is doing right now. That is why, once again, we call on the respect of the truce that had been accepted by the two sides on January 12, and we insist that the three tracks will continue despite everything, the political, the economic and the military. Thank you.
Media: First a point of clarification. You being a consummate diplomat as ever, could you explain to us which side was responsible for this serious violation of the truce and your message to them. And then my question, it does seem odd to be asking the Special Rapporteur for Libya about Syria but clearly, right now, there are two wars and Turkey and Russian in two wars are on opposite sides. Are you worried that the deterioration of the situation in Idlib could affect your process?
Salame: Well, I am not going to be very diplomatic, for once. I’m going to say that the Speaker of the House of the High State Council has asked for a report of the talks, but everybody was here, and I thought that his request came too late. I should say also that the Speaker of the House has put new conditions on his agreement to participate that were never mentioned to me during talks with me. But I should add that 7 out of 13 members of the House of Representatives remained in Geneva, despite the call for the boycott, and participated actively in the discussions for the past three days. I would like to salute their courage and their determination.
Why are we in a hurry? Why don’t we listen to all those people who say, ‘Why don’t you do this before’, ‘Why don’t we wait on what happens in the other tracks before’? Because I am worried. Because the Libyans are worried. Because the Libyans keep asking me don’t waste any time.
So, I ask those who are calling for a report of these talks to talk to the Libyans, and not to me. And to stop writing me letters every single day with new conditions. To talk to their fellow Libyans, and explain to them that they should sustain shelling and war and the closure of their ports and airports before they make us the grace and honour of coming here. We are pursuing our line despite the procrastination of these cynics.
The Libya-Syria Turkey-Russia link?
For your second question, it’s an absolutely relevant question. I do believe that there are now players who are now very active in both Syria and Libya. And I do believe that there is a mutual sort of interaction between the two conflicts that is not favourable for peace in neither one.
Media: Who actually showed up and who did not show up? Can you give us a bit more details?
Salame: It’s difficult to tell you. The Speaker of the House of Representative asked everybody to go back. There were 13 invited; 7 stayed. So, there were also people who did not necessarily follow the orders that were given. Many others who were invited stayed. I would like to say that, in particular, the women who we had invited decided to stay, probably because they are more sensible to the fact that no time should be wasted on small, petty details before trying to find a solution to the crisis.
Media: What about the other side? And what are your next steps?
Salame: There is no other side. Those who left are from both sides. The High State Council was not here. The HOR decided not to be here but 7 members of the HOR who were invited stayed, while six left.
Media: Some of the members of the Parliament accused UNSMIL that it intervened in determining the names of the representatives in the commission. They mentioned the name of the Special Representative and the Deputy Special Representative in particular, so the question was, ‘What really happened and how did the selection take place?’’
Salame: That this is not true. There was one single mechanism that was applied to both parties – both the party that belongs to Tripoli and the one that belongs to Tobruk. That mechanism depended on the fact that members of each electoral district would meet, together in a special place, and vote for the representatives in the Commission. That happened in the Higher State Council with the presence of four representatives of UNSMIL. They were present there to make sure that no exclusion whatsoever would happen. The same thing happened in the House of Representatives. Therefore all 13 districts, with their freedom, chose their representatives here in Geneva. We do not accept whatsoever these accusations levelled against us. And those who would accept to move away from the talks, I congratulate them on their democratic spirit, but I myself do not accept such accusations.
Media: There were declarations and announcements made in Tripoli from the East of Libya that linked the return to the political track to making progress in the military track. One representative from the East of Libya said they would not accept any ceasefire until the militias are disintegrated. That adds to the complexities of the situation. Does this mean the political track will not be launched until the military track makes progress?
Salame: In Berlin, we said that we had parallel tracks rather than tracks that are conditional on each other, that is to say that any progress made on a track would not impede the others, or any stoppage on another track would not impede any of the two other tracks. And I have to say that the members in each of the track, whether economic, political or military, are not the same persons. It is the parallel tracks rather than conditional tracks that we are working on. I have not heard of any opinion saying that we have to wait for one track to succeed. What I know for sure is that the Libyans do not want to wait anymore, and everybody has to understand that. I receive like one hundred messages everyday from Libyans asking me to move forward. They cannot accept war, they cannot take war anymore. They cannot take displacement and shelling anymore. And I have already told all the stakeholders that again these talks will work on the basis of parallel tracks rather than conditional tracks.
Media: As we know the meeting is over. When will you convene again a meeting in Geneva, here? With that ceasefire, and the attacks by Hafter on Tripoli the capital of Libya, how are you going to achieve sustainable peace? Don’t you think it’s better to find a solution to the conflict first and then sit at the table and find a better political solution?
Salame: You will not find a UN man who call for war; we are paid to call for peace. Therefore, I am going to work on a ceasefire. I have worked on a ceasefire. The Security Council, in Resolution 2510, Article 4, 5 and 6, asked me to bring five officers from the two sides and to try with them to transform the truce, that had been called for by the Turkish and Russian Presidents on the 8th and implemented on the 12th, to transform it into a full-fledged agreement for a ceasefire. And that is exactly what UNSMIL did in this building, for two rounds. After 11 days of negotiations, we have come to some kind of compromise text that was written by the mission, given to the two delegations in order to bring to their superiors, their principals, so that, hopefully, they agree on it and we transform this very shaky truce, especially after what happened yesterday and today, into a lasting ceasefire.
I will keep convening the meeting during the months of March, probably a third round. I’m waiting for the answers from the principals on the drafts I sent with the military. I hope to have the answers by Monday. If I have the answers and there is a need for a third round of the military, it will be given priority. If not, I will call for the second round [of the political talks] a few days later. As for the economic track, the third meeting is going to take place on the 15th of March.
Media: You said that there you are receiving continuous messages from Libyans , for the UNSMIL to expedite, put an end to this war, and you also warned that the regional war could take place at the same time. My question is, how far the European-led operations that are due to start at the end of March to monitor the arrival of arms and weaponry, how far can they stop war? And what is the role envisaged for the African Union? And a third question was: Will the talks continue on all three tracks without any foreign intervention? Can you ensure that?
”I did not get the diplomatic support I needed from international community”
Salame: Look, you have a number of countries, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus a number of countries who have been intervening, and continue to intervene, in Libyan affairs, who met one day, January 19th, in Berlin, and committed, publicly, to sustain the three tracks. They again met, or some of them met, in New York, in the Security Council, and agreed on Resolution 2510, where the countries commit to support the three tracks.
I will answer your question un-diplomatically. Did I get the kind of support needed since then? My answer is, no. I need much more support. They don’t need to be in the room; the dialogue is Libyan-Libyan, and I will not change my mind on that. But they have many ways of putting pressure on those who violate the ceasefire, on those who violate the arms embargo, on those who do not come to Geneva political talks, on those who give orders to sabotage the military or political talks. They could be doing all this. Did they do it the way they committed to do it? My answer is, no.
The last question was answered, the first question: As to the European Union, this is the decision of the European Union; it is not the decision of the United Nations. And I have to tell you that the decision of the European Union does not aim at stopping the war, put an end to the war, but rather to monitor the smuggling or the exportation of weapons. Again, this is a European initiative. As for the African Union, the African Union was represented in a high-level meeting for the heads of State in Brazzaville. We, I, also, was there in this meeting in Brazzaville two weeks ago.
The Secretary-General had a meeting or attended the African Summit held in Addis Abeba a week later. The African Union is represented by the head of the African committee, the current head of the African Union, the head of the African Commission. They’re all in synch. They all attended the meeting in Berlin, along with the fact that we have three African States represented in the Security Council: Tunisia, Niger and South Africa. And they all agreed to the latest Security Council Resolution. The African Union, I asked them to send an envoy, or probably a unit, to follow-up on the proceedings in Tripoli. And I said that we will host them. We, as UNSMIL, will provide them with all the necessary, their needs. They can even use our aircrafts, and that is the case with all other invitees. So, the African Union decided next May they will hold a celebration for the reconciliation between the Libyan parties, and we pledged that we will help and support them. So, finally, the African Union, as a matter of fact, is present in all international working groups related to Libya, and they attended the follow-up committee that was held in Munich last week, and will attend the meeting to be held in Rome next time.