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Libya: No Breakthrough in Peace Process from Paris Meeting

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Monday, November 13, 2017 10:25 AM / BMI Research

 

BMI View: A lasting peace deal remains off the cards in Libya over the near term, as rival eastern and western factions are unable to agree on the structure of a new unity government – specifically the role of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (of the Libyan National Army) within it. Even if an agreement is eventually reached, security risks will remain elevated on the ground for years to come, given the highly localised nature of the conflict, and the weakness of Libya's state structures.

 

We expect political resolution of the ongoing conflict in Libya to remain elusive over the months ahead, as the country's main rival factions fail to agree on key issues linked to the structure, and the process of electing, a new unity government. Moreover, the exclusion of many major militias from top-level peace talks will limit broad-based support for any future deal on the ground. Amid these conditions, clashes between rival militant groups will continue to occur at relatively high frequency, and oil infrastructure will remain at elevated risk of attacks.

 

Serraj-Haftar Agreement Insufficient To Deliver Peace

We do not expect the July 25 meeting in Paris between representatives of Libya's two main rival factions – Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (of the Government of National Accord, GNA) and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (of the Libyan National Army, LNA, aligned with the House of Representatives, HoR) – to pave the way for a lasting resolution to the country's ongoing conflict over the months ahead. While the talks did result in an agreement, in principle, to implement a ceasefire and plan for national elections in 2018, they failed to produce a clear framework and timeline for such action.

 

Crucially, the agreement does not restrict the use of armed force in 'counter-terrorism' activities. Given Haftar's branding of most rival militias as terrorist, this will allow the LNA to push ahead with efforts to expand its territorial control. Haftar, currently in power over most of eastern Libya (including key oil facilities), appears to be planning a move towards the west of the country in the near term.

 

Indeed, he may feel emboldened in this endeavour by the strengthened international legitimacy that the Paris meeting provided him. This is likely to result in clashes between the LNA and the various militias that are based in the west (many of which are loosely aligned with the GNA), preventing a ceasefire from taking hold.

 

On a fundamental level, the agreement failed to offer any concrete solutions to the key issues of Libya's future government structure and Haftar's eventual role in it. At this stage in the conflict, it appears highly improbable, in our view, that Haftar will accept a subordinate position in any new unity body; he is more likely aiming for the presidency, or a leading role in a small governing council.

 

This is unlikely to be accepted by Libya's western militias, however, many of which remain opposed to the idea of granting the general any substantial powers, given his ties to the former Gaddafi regime (1969-2011).

 

Sarraj, meanwhile, lacks the authority on the ground in the west to convince these militias to commit to any such political solution. Until the issue of Haftar's role is successfully resolved – which can probably only happen through a broadening of the political process to include all major groups involved in the conflict (domestic and external – including the West and Russia, as well as regional players such as Egypt) – we expect lasting peace to remain elusive.

 

Security Risks To Stay Elevated, Even Beyond Peace Deal

Even if a deal is eventually reached, we note that security risks will remain elevated in Libya for years to come, given the highly localised nature of the conflict and the weakness of the country's state structures (a legacy of the Gaddafi regime). A vast number of councils and militias are competing for political influence and resources on the ground, and their alliances shift based on factors such as economic incentives, religious ideologies, tribal affiliations, personal rivalries and ties with foreign backers.

 

This high level of fragmentation complicates negotiations, and makes the task of broadening support for any type of authority across the country difficult. Libya's oil infrastructure runs across areas controlled by a wide range of these groups, and may be attacked at any point, should a local militia decide it wants to disrupt production or exports in order to further their political cause or receive a pay-off from the government.

 

We also highlight the potential longer-term political risks attached to an eventual Haftar presidency: any signs of authoritarianism on his part would raise the potential for conflict escalation in Libya – where the overthrow of Gaddafi less than six years ago, is still fresh in people's minds.

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