UN back in Libya as unity government asserts itself ahead of vote

UN envoy Martin Kobler said his staff was back in Tripoli after leaving amid violence in mid-2014

(Middle East Eye – AFP)

The United Nations said its staff had returned to Tripoli and Libya’s unity government vowed further steps to assert its authority Sunday, on the eve of a crucial confidence vote.

UN envoy Martin Kobler said his staff was back after leaving amid violence in mid-2014, three years after Libya descended into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Their arrival comes a day before the recognised parliament votes on the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), supported by the international community in a bid to end years of chaos in the North African nation.

“The UN staff will be in Tripoli five days a week… I am not visiting Tripoli any more, I am working out of Tripoli,” Kobler said at a joint news conference with Ahmed Maiteeq, deputy head of the UN-backed unity government.

Maiteeq, meanwhile, said the GNA would take control of three ministries from Monday, in the latest step to assert its authority over the conflict-torn country.

“More than six ministries are ready, of which three will be handed over administratively tomorrow,” he said.

The deputy premier said the GNA would begin running the ministries of social affairs, youth and sports, and housing and public works from Monday, regardless of the results of the vote of confidence.

“The legislative authorities must quickly give the GNA its legitimacy through the House of Representatives in order for it to serve the Libyan people,” Maiteeq said.

This, he said, would “endorse the GNA in order to save the Libyan people from all the problems”.

The legislature’s endorsement would be a key step for the unity government of Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj, which has been working to assert its authority in the war-torn nation.

Power-sharing deal

Libya has had two rival administrations since mid-2014 when a militia alliance took over Tripoli, setting up its own authority and forcing the recognised parliament to flee to the remote east, where it is based in Tobruk.

Sarraj’s government was formed under a UN-backed power-sharing deal agreed in December and supported by some lawmakers from both sides.

The unity cabinet has been steadily winning support from local officials and state institutions, though the head of the Tripoli-based administration, Khalifa Ghweil, has refused to recognise its authority.

Kobler visited Tripoli shortly after Sarraj’s government arrived in the capital under naval escort on 30 March.

The UN envoy will be in Tobruk on Monday to encourage the recognised government and parliament to back the latest moves.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic trips to back the unity government, including a visit on Saturday by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

World powers see the new government as a crucial partner in tackling militants behind a string of deadly attacks in Libya, as well as human traffickers exploiting the country’s turmoil.

The first clashes since Sarraj’s arrival broke out several hours after the ministers’ visit, but had subsided by early Sunday.

Gunfire and small explosions were heard overnight as two armed groups clashed in the Hay el-Andalous district north of the capital, an upmarket area housing embassies and home to many politicians, a correspondent said.

No information was immediately available on the cause or extent of the clashes or whether there had been any casualties.

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