Politics & Economics

Libya’s Settlement Talks Moving Ahead Despite Islamist Resistance

North Africa

Kidnapping of GNA media chief Mohamed Baayou by the Tripoli Revolutionaries militia jeopardises the Libya political process.

TRIPOLI – Mohamed Baayou, head of the communication and media services of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya announced a truce in the GNA’s media campaign against the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The announcement has sparked violent reactions from the rival Islamists and militias in the Libyan capital, which culminated with the kidnapping of Baayou and his children, in total contradiction with the international efforts to impose a path of settlements and power-sharing through multiple meetings and in different places.

Baayou was kidnapped by the Tripoli Revolutionaries militia, one of the major militias controlling the capital. His appointment to head the GNA’s information apparatus had been opposed by Islamist figures and other personalities close to the Islamist current, on grounds that he was affiliated with the former regime. Baayou took office last September 10, and his first steps were to work towards ending the Islamists’ control of the official media.

Baayou’s announcement of a media truce was part of the Geneva understandings aimed at building trust between the Libyan factions by stopping hostilities on the ground and in the media. But Libyan sources said that stopping the daily media targeting of Haftar and his supporters came as a shock to the militias and Islamists, whose mere existence and survival depended on them attacking the Libyan army and its commander.

With the campaign halted, their role comes to an end, especially in conjunction with the truce in field operations as well.

The militias believed that the goal of the media truce was to give current and future legitimacy to Haftar by stopping the media from attacking him.

Baayou had called the war in Libya a civil war, and this has angered the militias even more, because such a description revokes their “revolutionary” legitimacy and puts them in the position of mere warring militias, and even may impede their integration into the security forces or the army in the future.

Baayou’s kidnapping forebodes more insecurity, something that the militias were planning on all along to prevent the implementation of the de-escalation measures. These measures target the militia’s military, financial and political influence, and may lead to their neutralisation in the first stage and the prosecution of their members at later stages.

Mohamed Baayou’s clan, the Awlad Baayou tribe in the city of Misrata, which enjoys an important political and military weight in western Libya, had set a deadline (which came to pass yesterday evening) for Ayoub Aburas, leader of the Tripoli Revolutionaries militia, to release their hostage and his children. This development makes very likely the eruption of armed clashes between members of the Baayou tribe—which has several fighting militias of its own—on the one hand, and the Tripoli militias on the other. It may also lead to a conflict of interests between the influential figures of Tripoli and the Misrata group who seems the most likely to benefit from the new political changes.

Libya watchers believe that Baayou’s kidnapping could not have been a random development, since the militias have been searching for a pretext to confuse the situation and show their anger at the new changes. This pretext was provided by the surface changes introduced by Baayou, such as removing the logo of the “Volcano of Anger” operation from satellite channels, most of which were owned by the militias or funded from abroad.

Observers pointed out that there were obvious signs of “solidarity” between these satellite channels, as they reinserted the removed logo and started spewing a homogeneous discourse attacking the political settlements, which suggests the existence of an external mind coordinating the whole process. They were, of course, hinting at Turkey, which does not hide its anger at the arrangements that Washington is handling directly through the person of the United Nations envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, or the US ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland.

However, the plans of the militia and their external backers do not seem capable of halting the progress of the understandings sponsored by Washington. Stephanie Williams announced, on Wednesday, that the two parties to the Libyan conflict had reached a series of tentative and preliminary agreements in order to settle the crisis.

Williams emphasised that the new agreements reached between the two military delegations representing the GNA and the Libyan National Army in the Geneva negotiations include the reopening of land routes and domestic flights and facilitating communication between regions to allow finding solutions to the issue of exchanging detainees of both sides.

Air traffic between the capital, Tripoli, and the eastern city of Benghazi is scheduled to resume at the end of this week.

The two sides also agreed “to support and continue the current calm on the frontlines and to avoid any military escalation,” and to take steps towards “the restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards which will ensure the increase and continuation of the flow of oil.”

Williams declared that she was “very optimistic” that a permanent ceasefire could be reached in the country.

The UN official also denounced foreign interference in the conflict, calling on interfering countries to “take their hands off” Libya, in reference to Russia and Turkey.

The Geneva negotiations coincide with the announcement by Ahmed Maitig, Vice President of the Government of National Accord, that the two rival parties in Libya will soon begin work on drawing up a unified budget for the state as part of the efforts to reach an agreement between them.

He added that they are looking forward to unifying the budget in order to unify the spending channels as well.

In September, Maitig signed an agreement with the commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to end the blockade on oil production and export, which had lasted for eight months.

The agreement provides for a review of how oil revenues will be shared between the two sides.

Article: The Arab Weekly

Image: AFP