UNSMIL concerned by arbitrary ‘sabotage’ arrest of eastern Libyans arriving in Tripoli by militias
By Sami Zaptia.
London, 9 November 2020:
UNSMIL yesterday expressed its concern over the arbitrary arrest of eastern Libyans arriving in Tripoli by officially recognized militias. It warned that these arrests could be an attempt to sabotage the recent thawing of relations between west and east Libya as well as the UNSMIL-brokered virtual and in-person Libyan Political Dialogue talks. The in-person talks commence in Tunis today.
In its statement, UNSMIL said it ‘‘notes with great concern that between 1 and 5 November, a number of individuals from the east who travelled to Tripoli were arbitrarily arrested by armed groups. At least one person was followed to his destination in Tripoli and then arrested, others were allegedly arrested at the airport upon arrival.
UNSMIL reiterates that all Libyan citizens have the right to freedom of movement. Any illegal infringement of this right is a serious violation of Libya’s obligations under international law.
The Mission believes that these actions aim to sabotage the good faith efforts to bring Libyans together, following the ceasefire agreement, and calls for the immediate release of those arbitrarily detained with the freedom of movement fully respected for all Libyans.
On a positive note, the UNSMIL statement welcomed the decision by the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority on 4 November 2020 to permit the resumption of flights to all airports in the Southern region of Libya. This decision, it said, is a product of the confidence that has been built as a result of the October 23 ceasefire agreement and the follow-up talks of the Joint Military Commission in Ghadames on 2-4 November.
It must be noted that last Friday (6 October), the Interior Ministry of the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli condemned the arrest of citizens arriving from the eastern region on a flight from Benghazi’s Benina airport to Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.
In its condemnation statement the Ministry said these acts were committed by a group of people to serve their personal interests. It said the arrest does not represent the Tripoli government and does not serve the public interest of the country and undermines the current ongoing negotiations between the western and eastern Libyan factions.
The Ministry said that an investigation was opened into the incident and that legal measures were being taken against the ‘‘armed group’’ that carried out this act.
The incident would have been a cause of much embarrassment to the Tripoli Libyan government and Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha. Its timing could not have been worse. Tripoli has been keen to create a positive atmosphere and narrative in parallel with the ongoing UN-brokered virtual and in-person military and political talks.
For example, Tripoli has resumed flights to eastern Libya as well as Sebha, it has attempted to stop media under its control from referring to Hafter as the ‘‘war criminal’’ and has encouraged prisoner exchange. These have been part of what UNSMIL has called ‘‘trust-building measures’’.
The incident can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, as no more than the ongoing existence and behaviour of militias outside the direct control of the Tripoli government. This is a status quo that has existed since the 2011 revolution that ended the Qaddafi era.
Secondly, it could have been a premeditated act by spoilers who have not been included in the dialogue process, or who prefer the status quo, or object to the likely results of the ongoing political talks.
UNSMIL Acting head, Stephanie Williams has warned of anticipated spoilers and vowed to not allow them to scupper the current political talks.
It will be seen if the Interior Ministry will indeed officially name and punish the responsible militia.