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UN envoy says Libya will slide into `disintegration’ if politicians don’t move toward elections

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. special envoy for Libya warned the country’s feuding political actors Thursday that if they don’t urgently form a unified government and move toward elections the oil-rich North African nation will slide into “disintegration.”

Abdoulaye Bathily told the U.N. Security Council there are numerous alarming signs of such a slide and urged all political leaders to put aside “their self-interests” and come together to negotiate and reach a compromise “to restore the dignity of their motherland.”

“Reluctance to do so calls into question not only their commitment to the elections, but to the unity and future of their country for which they should be held accountable,” he said.

Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. In the chaos that followed, the country split, with rival administrations in the east and west backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.

The country’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections on Dec. 24, 2021, and the refusal of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah — who led a transitional government in the capital of Tripoli — to step down.

In response, Libya’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, but suspended him last May. The powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter continues to hold sway in the east.

Bathily told the council that in his latest engagements with the major players, none have moved from their initial positions and each has set preconditions for participating in negotiations to resolve outstanding contested issues that would clear a path to the long-awaited elections.

He pointed to intransigence by Dbeibah, Hifter, speaker of the eastern-based House of Representatives Agila Saleh and by Mohamed Takala, president of the High Council of State which has played a key role over the country’s election laws.

The U.N. envoy urged the rival players to lift bans on activities of the High National Elections Commission so local elections in 97 municipalities across the country can take place this year.

Bathily also said the Security Council and the broader international community have “a critical role to play to press the Libyan parties to engage constructively” and urged them to come up with a coordinated and unified approach to press for presidential and legislative elections.

Throughout Libya, he said, people are frustrated at the status quo and failure of the key political players to “do what is needed to set the country on the path to sustainable peace and progress.”

He also expressed increasing concern about rivalries between “security actors” seeking control of more territory in the capital, Tripoli, and about the human rights and humanitarian situation of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. And he said: “I remain alarmed at continued collective expulsions of migrants and refugees across the borders between Libya and neighboring countries.”

Robert Wood, U.S. deputy ambassador, said the United States is “alarmed by the activities of armed groups in Libya, which operate with impunity and have persistent influence over Libyan security and politics.”

These groups are violating human rights and international humanitarian law, which include causing deaths, injuries, and displacement of hundreds of civilians, he said. He added there are also “allegations of unlawful detentions to suppress perceived civil dissent and attacks against civil society.”

Wood said the United States urges steps to reunify the country’s divided military which could help “reduce criminality in the south, secure the country’s borders, and prevent spillover of regional turmoil.”

The U.S. also calls on Libyan political leaders to name representatives to U.N.-facilitated preparatory talks “aimed at addressing the core issues still standing in the way of elections,” he said.

Regionally, Wood said, the United States is monitoring the destabilizing implications for Libya of the situations in Niger, Chad, Sudan and Mali – “including the movement of foreign fighters and rampant arms trafficking.”

He singled out “the destabilizing activities” of Russia’s Wagner Group which he called “a transnational criminal organization.” It is reportedly operating in all those countries as well as the Central African Republic.

Russia’s deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyansky expressed hope that the rival political parties will soon reach agreements on organizing elections, telling the council “the status quo has gone on for far too long” and it’s time the country had a genuinely inclusive government.

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