By Sami Zaptia.
London, 6 February 2020:
Briefing the media today on the 5+5 Libyan Military talks taking part in Geneva between the two opposing military factions, UNSMIL head Ghassan Salame said he was pleased with progress.
Salame: We have been meeting since Monday afternoon, as you know, with the Joint Military Commission made (up) of five high-ranking officers from the two sides of the battle front and Libya. I would like to say that I am very pleased to see a clear national spirit inspiring both delegations and that there is a very high level of professionalism in discussing the often technical points related to the cease-fire and to the handling of the issue of armed groups.
Progress has been made on many important issues and we have before us (a) significant number of points of convergence. Are we happy with what we have? Certainly yes. Is this complete? Certainly not and that is why we are still working on refining our basic draft and on bridging the gap on a few points of divergence that still exist between the two delegations. This is helped by the sense of urgency we have, and they also share about the necessity of transforming the truce into a lasting and permanent ceasefire. During these talks, the negotiators would be certainly helped by more calm on the fronts and by the absence of any act – provocative act – on the military side by any of the parties in (the) conflict so that they can progress in as rational and moderate environment as possible.
You know that this military track is one of the three tracks we are trying to organize in application of the Berlin’s conclusions that were reached on the 19th of January. We will move to reactivate the second track, which is the economic and financial track that we started on January the 6th, by a meeting in Cairo in two days from now, on the 9th of February, and the political track is a bit lagging because we are still waiting for the two chambers to select their representatives. One of them has finished its job, the other is having some difficulty having its act together, but we are hopeful that the 40 participants in the political dialogue will be here for the start of the political dialogue on the 26th of February, that is before the end of the month as I have already said. So, the three tracks are sort of in action. The military track has made good progress in the past few days. The economic track is going to have its second step next Sunday, and the political track is going to be opened on the 26th of this month in this very place.
Media: To what extent has there been progress in the two matters of the withdrawal of the Libyan National Army forces south of Tripoli and the matter of demobilizing the militias.
Salame: The ceasefire agreement is made of a number of issues and there has been points of convergence on many of the commitments to be taken by the two parties, but there are still two or three points of divergence (that) we are going to treat in a new draft the Mission will be preparing today for their consideration tomorrow.
Media: Could you elaborate a little bit more about these points of divergence? And also, when you last reported to the Security Council on January 30th, you did finish your remarks there by saying that you were deeply angry and disappointed about the lack of translation on the ground about what has been agreed upon in Berlin. Are you still in that frame of mind?
Salame: There are two aspects to your questions. There is the aspect I was angered by and frustrated by and I don’t hide it, which is the fact that many countries present at the Berlin conference had committed to have a more honest respect of the arms embargo, and they didn’t. We have evidence that the two parties have benefitted from new arrivals of weapons, new kinds of weapons and ammunition, and also from the arrival of new recruits or new foreign fighters to their side. Therefore, this was the reason for my frustration, which I did not hide at the Security Council. What we are talking about today is not exactly that, that is the commitments made by the States, and that is why I was addressing those States in the Security Council.
What we are doing here is an inter-Libyan, purely inter-Libyan dialogue on the best conditions to have a translation of the truce that has been accepted by both sides on the 12th of January into a lasting ceasefire. And as you know, an agreement on a ceasefire necessarily involves a number of points: what do you do with the heavy weaponry, how to allow the internally displaced persons to go back to their homes, how to re-civilianize the areas that have been basically a theatre of war, how do you deal with the armed groups, how do you deal with the monitoring of the ceasefire, who should monitor the ceasefire, and what is the role of the Mission in the monitoring of the ceasefire? These questions are quite technical questions and that is why our discussions have been basically: one, inter-Libyan with no presence or interference of any country but the Libyans themselves on both sides. And second, technical in the sense that we are not talking about politics or about the Government or about the role of foreign countries. We are talking about what is acceptable to both sides in Libya to make that translation from a truce into a full-fledged agreement on a ceasefire.
Media: Have the two parties held meetings together? Or are the meetings still held separately?
Salame: We did not press for there to be a common meeting and the two parties did not request it. What is important is their agreement. If this agreement is more easily reached through shuttle diplomacy, we have no problem with that. That was their desire for the moment, so we have respected that. I did not come to Geneva for a photo with two people shaking hands; that is not my objective. My objective is to reach an agreement. And if it is easier for them to reach this agreement with the Mission shuttling between the two parties, I have no problem with that. The important thing is the agreement. I did not come for a photo.
Media: Could you say have the two sides identified, or agreed on, who would monitor the ceasefire at this stage? And have the talks so far identified a formula for a full pullback of forces?
Salame: I am not in a position at this stage, where the agreement has not been completed, to give you precise answers to certain points that remain under discussion. However, I can tell you that the Joint Military Commission would be involved in the monitoring of the ceasefire under the auspices of the United Nations (Mission) in Libya. That is acceptable to both sides. As for the details of the ceasefire on the ground, they are still under discussion on certain points. Some of the points have been agreed and some are still being worked out.
Media: I want to ask about the economic track. At this point, was the blockade imposed on Libya’s main oil terminals discussed? And as a follow up, do you think that as ceasefire agreement can be agreed without a discussion about oil?
Salame: How can you avoid the question of oil? I mean, the country lives on oil and gas exports. So of course, the Mission wants oil to flow as soon as possible. Now, I am not asking 10 military officers dealing with the ceasefire to discuss the question of oil. What we are discussing, we are discussing the question of oil of those who have taken the initiative to stop this flow of oil. So, on the one hand, we are in permanent contact with the leadership of the national oil company. On the other hand, we have been yesterday in a long conversation with the tribal chiefs who have met in Zuwetina to see what are the conditions – Zuwetina being one of the terminals where they had decided to stop the export of oil – to see what their conditions are. And we are promised the list of conditions for that today.
They have gathered yesterday in the Mission hub in Benghazi and I had a long conversation, more than one hour, with them. I repeated my call to them that this is not a healthy situation where all Libyans, all Libyan population is not helped by the stoppage of the exports. And, on the other hand, I asked them to be very specific about what their demands are.
The economic track will certainly – when it meets on the 9th – will certainly put this on the top of its agenda. One of the issues that has been raised – very vocally by them – is the fact that there is not, in their view, a fair distribution or redistribution of the State revenues. We are going to put this; in fact, it is already on top of the agenda before the oil stopped flowing from Libya. We will listen to their demands and the economic track will deal with this issue frontally next Sunday, that is in two/three days from now.
Media: Given you’ve got these gaps – you said you’re expecting some new language – is it likely that you could have a more concrete ceasefire before you leave Geneva or do you anticipate returning here to fill the gaps?
Salame: No, I hope that we can have an agreement before we leave Geneva. But it is evident that both sides will need to submit the draft we would have reached to their respective leadership. And this is absolutely legitimate. So, will we finish on time to not only agree on the few points of diversion we still have, but also do we have the time necessary to get a final imprimatur from the respective leadership? I hope this will be the case, but if we have a solid agreement that is a very, very good step forward.