Libya Hosts International Conference to Build Support Before Elections

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Libya’s fragile unity government welcomes top foreign officials on Thursday for support on pointed transition issues as the war-torn country prepares for a landmark elections in December.

The conference comes two months before the planned presidential elections as part of a United Nations-led peace process that seeks to end a decade of conflict and chaos.

Tripoli has said that the world body’s undersecretary general for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, and Libyan envoy Jan Kubis will attend.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday he would also be there, and officials from regional powers such as Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also expected, according to Libyan press agency LANA.

Libya and the UN have struggled to turn the page on the violence that has plagued the country since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

A ceasefire between the eastern and western factions last year led to a unity government taking office in March with a mandate to lead the country to elections.

The presidential vote is scheduled for December 24, but the legislative elections have been delayed, with a date to be set in the new year, amid east-west disputes.

Thursday’s conference aims to “gather the necessary support, in a transparent manner” for the presidential election, Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush said in a video released by her ministry on Sunday.

Foreign powers have been pushing hard for the elections to be held as scheduled, after the date was agreed in UN-led talks last year.

But the process has been plagued by strong disagreements over the legal basis for the vote.

Libya expert Emadeddin Badi said that the base of the polls “is becoming more and more precarious.”

But, he added, the conference aims to “build on the momentum for Libya to stabilize, because several countries really want to see a stable Libya, even if it is on their own terms.”

Foreign fighters

Mangoush said the conference seeks to promote “respect for Libya’s sovereignty and independence (as well as) preventing negative foreign interference.”

Foreign powers have supported various sides in Libya’s complex war, and the presence of foreign mercenaries and troops is one of the toughest obstacles to lasting peace.

Last December, the UN estimated that 20,000 foreign fighters were present in Libya.

They range from Russians dispatched by the obscure Kremlin-linked Wagner group to African and Syrian mercenaries and Turkish soldiers deployed under a deal with a previous unity government at the height of the latest round of east-west fighting.

The fate of these fighters will be high on the agenda at Thursday’s conference, Mangoush said, adding that the foreign armed presence “represents a threat not only to Libya but to the entire region.”

The minimal progress since the January deadline for his full exit under a ceasefire agreement reflects the complexity of the issue.

Earlier this month, a joint commission of Eastern and Western military commanders agreed on a roadmap for his departure, but it lacked a timeline.

Tripoli has said that a “very modest” number of fighters have left.

Last but not least on Libya’s list of problems is the question of integrating and unifying the country’s armed forces under a single command – forces that as recently as last year were shooting at each other.

And while in theory the country has a unity government, its east is largely controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is expected to run as a presidential candidate but is despised by many in western Libya.

(AFP)