UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, has been trying to broker a peace deal between the rival governments of Libya. Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP Photo
GENEVA // Libya’s recognised parliament rejected a proposed UN peace plan for a second time in three days on Thursday night, dashing hopes for an early end to the country’s civil war.
The house of representatives, one of the country’s two governments, said a power-sharing peace deal proposed earlier this week by Bernardino Leon, head of the UN Special Mission to Libya, was unacceptable.
House of representatives spokesman Faraj Bohashim, announcing the decision, insisted that parliament was still open to negotiations but would not accept a deal that compelled it to share power with a second legislative body, the State Council.
Despite rejecting the UN plan for a first time on Tuesday, the house of representatives went on to send delegates to talks in Berlin with world powers on Wednesday.
After that meeting, it rejected the proposal again on Thursday. As the internationally recognised government in Libya, the house of representatives must sign off on the peace deal for it to be legally binding.
The US state department insisted that the UN plan for a proposed unity government was the “fourth and final draft”.
All five permanent members of the UN Security Council sent representatives to Berlin on Wednesday, joining Germany and Spain for the one-day conference.
“We have an opportunity, but there won’t be many more,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after the meeting. “Perhaps this is the last chance to prevent Libya from complete collapse.”
Mr Leon’s plan calls for power-sharing between the house of representative and a new 120-member body called the State Council, which would include 90 members of Libya’s rival parliament, the general national congress (GNC). The UN envoy wants the plan agreed by June 17, in time for the holy month of Ramadan, as he is concerned that the alternative will be a war that spirals out of control.
“This draft provides [a] solution for most of the challenges we have been facing,” Mr Leon said. “The principles of inclusion, balance and consensus are there.”
Libya has been at war since last June, when elections for the house of representatives saw defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.
In response, some Muslim Brotherhood supporters and allies from Misurata formed Libya Dawn, a militia alliance that captured Tripoli and reinstalled the former parliament, the GNC.
The newly elected house of representatives then fled to the eastern city of Tobruk, pushing the country into civil war and tearing the country apart.
More than 500,000 of Libya’s six million population have been displaced and oil production – the country’s only major export – has dramatically fallen.
Into this chaos stepped ISIL, which now controls a chunk of central Libya anchored on Sirte, Qaddafi’s birthplace. In recent weeks, the extremist group has seized the city’s airbase after overrunning oilfields in the Sirte Basin.
On Tuesday, ISIL claimed to have seized full control of the city from militias allied to the GNC, according to Reuters, and confirmed by Libyan sources.
Diplomats fret that with Libya’s two parliaments busy fighting each other, there will be nothing to stop ISIL’s advance. Another worry for Europe is the growing tide of migrants crossing from Libya, where the absence of the rule-of-law is giving smugglers free reign.
Since peace talks began last September, Mr Leon has concentrated on trying to gain agreement on a new government first, with a ceasefire to follow, rather than the other way around.
The most obvious problem with his current peace plan is its complexity. In addition to the house of representatives and the GNC, Mr Leon also wants to create a third legislative body, the Libya Dialogue. This would choose the prime minister, and be made up of the 23 Libyan delegates who currently attend the UN peace talks. For critics, this arrangement is an invitation for gridlock.
Mr Leon’s plan was welcomed this week by Mohammed Sawan, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party which forms the largest party in the GNC, who said it can be “built upon to reach agreement”.
But in Tobruk, members of the house of representatives complain that the plan would give the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies more power than they would receive from the ballot box. One house of representative spokesman, Essa Abdel-Kauoum, accused Mr Leon of tailoring his plan to “appease an ideological group” – a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.