What's In Blue

Posted Tue 23 May 2017

Consultations on the Situation in Southern Libya

Later today (23 May), Council members will receive a briefing in consultations from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Martin Kobler, via video-teleconference. The meeting was requested by the UK in order to consider the risks of military escalation in Libya, particularly between militias nominally under the authority of the Presidency Council and the eastern-based militia known as the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Haftar.

On 18 May, a Misrata-based militia known as the Third Force, which supports the Presidency Council, attacked the Brak al-Shati air base held by the LNA, killing some 140 people. As a result of the attack, the head of the Presidency Council Faiez Serraj suspended its Defence Minister-designate Mahdi al-Barghathi and Third Force commander Jamal Traiki while an investigation is conducted. A 20 May statement by P5 ambassadors to Libya condemned any efforts to change the situation on the ground in Libya by force, expressed concern over reports of summary executions of combatants and civilians, and urged all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from further escalation. That same day, the Secretary-General stated that the reports of summary executions of civilians, if confirmed, may constitute war crimes. He urged all key Libyan stakeholders to recommit to the political dialogue and engage constructively towards that goal.

This is the latest of a series of clashes between rival militias. The Secretary-General’s 4 April report highlighted the fragility of the situation in the south, particularly the continued build-up of rival military forces, including the Third Force, the LNA, and tribal armed groups, competing for the control of strategic infrastructure amid ongoing tribal tensions. A Third Force spokesperson justified the 18 May attack as a response to repeated attacks by the LNA on the Tamanhint air base held by the Third Force. A 12 April statement by P5 ambassadors to Libya in reaction to violence near Tamanhint warned against the risk of escalating violence turning into renewed conflict and underlined the difference between acts against the terrorist threats and acts that can lead to further deterioration of the situation in Libya. (The LNA has repeatedly justified its military operations, including against rival militias, as fighting terrorist groups.)

Council members are expected to ask Kobler about the 2 May meeting between Serraj and Haftar in the United Arab Emirates and whether progress in this dialogue initiative can prevent further escalation of the military situation in the south and elsewhere. Previously, the President of the eastern-based House of Representatives Ageelah Saleh had met with the head of the Tripoli-based High State Council Abdurrahman Swehli in Rome on 21 April. Council members are also expected to inquire about the role that the UN-led mediation can still play at this critical juncture in order to ensure the coherence of regional and bilateral dialogue initiatives. Given the excessive reliance of the Presidency Council on militias, Council members are expected to ask about UNSMIL’s role in implementing the interim security arrangements contained in the Libyan Political Agreement, including efforts to form a presidential guard.

The final report of the Panel of Experts of the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee includes a confidential list of individuals who could be listed according to the sanction regime’s designation criteria (which include planning, directing or committing acts that violate human rights law or international humanitarian law). Even though Council members have been traditionally divided on this issue, some Council members might ask Kobler about his assessment of whether this would help ensure restraint and avoid further escalation.