Members of the Libyan pro-government forces, backed by locals, gather on a tank outside the Central Bank, near Benghazi port. Image Credit: REUTERS

The news that the UN Libya peace talks failed in Geneva last week is not at all surprising. Seven days after the last talks ended, Bernardino León, head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said Geneva 2 will start tomorrow, first hosting “Transitional” Libyans; then the ‘Municipalities’ session on Wednesday and the ‘armed militias’ session on Friday. How will Geneva 2 differ from Geneva 1?

For months now, starting with the first UN peace talks, called Ghademis 1, the West, through UNSMIL, has tried mistakenly to mediate between Libya’s legitimate government and Parliament (HOR) based in Tobruk and the dodgy former Afghan-Arab militant types from Tripoli who call themselves ‘Libya Dawn’, a self-appointed government colluding with the remnants of the now defunct former Parliament, the General National Conference (GNC). The other main ingredients of Libya Dawn are militias from the important town of Misrata and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The now accepted debacle of Geneva 1 featured numerous miscalls by the UN about who would attend the talks, their names and their individual mandates. Their authority was never verified and no real details of the actual discussions were given. The UN did say on January 16 that a ceasefire had been accepted by both sides but it soon became very apparent that this was not the case.

Although a list of “agreed to” points was released to the media by the UN on the evening of Thursday, January 15, this statement might as well have been copied and pasted from other talks trying to negotiate a way to avoid state failure. It was UN Orwellian double-speak to give an air of optimism and forward progress with no substance whatsoever.

Now almost as in a farce, Leon announces Geneva 2 will happen tomorrow. The confusion over the Geneva 1 talks became more acute when the GNC, which did not attend nor agree to Geneva talks, suddenly proposed on January 16 to move the meeting from Geneva to Ghat in Libya, where fighting was occurring nearby.

Nouri Abu Sahmain, the GNC’s self-styled president, then flew to Turkey to meet the main sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to seek to negotiate directly with Leon, the UNSMIL head. That meeting, shamefully for Leon, took place, initially secretly, on Saturday with Erdogan present. That the UN even thought that Turkey should be involved as a broker, given the recent emerging revelations of Erdogan’s support for extremists, is incredible. The promised continuance of the Geneva talks last Monday with more Libyan representatives of all the warring parties — which had been made in a UN statement on the afternoon of January 16 — never occurred. No one turned up!

So now Round 2 in Geneva is said to start this tomorrow. With who? What does that first day’s session, ‘Transitional’, even mean?

In an interview to a newspaper given during Geneva 1, Prime Minister Abdullah Al Thinni pleaded with the UN to “lift the ban on arming the Libyan military to enable the state to take full control over national soil”. Implicit in what Al Thinni asked for from the West and the UN was that they stop talking to these renegades passing themselves off as an alternate government in Tripoli. Al Thinni’s government revealed on the January 17 a decree passed weeks ago that declared the recall to official duty of General Khalifa Haftar and 107 other Libyan military officials.

Some elements in the West continue to demonise Haftar as a militia head, who in fact has become a very popular folk hero to most Libyans. He is a senior officer in the Libyan Army and instigated Operation Dignity against terrorism which has been popular with the majority of Libyans from its inception. EU policymakers showed their frustration with the UN process too. On January 20, the EU called for the disbandment of its EUBAM Tripoli office, the EU mission to control Libya’s borders.

More proactive

The US appears to be more proactive than it has been to date in shaping the future of Libya. A Washington agreement came at the end of a three-day visit also the week before last by Ali Salem Hibri, Central Bank of Libya (CBL) Governor, Hassan Bu Hadi, chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), who had been sent from Tobruk. The US agreed “to safeguard Libyan domestic and overseas assets from being used to finance terrorism or war in Libya”.

This statement means no money goes to the GNC and self-appointed prime minister Omar Al Hassi, a former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group member, in Tripoli. Reforms have been made by Al Thinni to change the payment system that will divert income to Tobruk for oil sales and it’s hoped that those changes were agreed to in Washington.

The UN’s attempt to mediate without a clear plan and to again try and resuscitate talks is unbelievable. Hopefully it means that the West and America in particular will soon be unequivocal in their support of the legitimate Tobruk government if Geneva 2 collapses, much in the same way Geneva 1 did, and that then they will make clear that they do not recognise nor will they deal with Dawn and the GNC in Tripoli. Let’s be clear. León has already safeguarded what little credibility he has by saying that Libya Dawn will not participate in Geneva 2 — that’s the other half of the equation, isn’t it?

I suppose Libyans are going to have to watch this farce play out and if Geneva 2 fails, that hopefully will encourage the Misratans to break away from Libya Dawn leaving only violent extremists and the Muslim Brotherhood. They then need to be forced out of Tripoli by the Libyan Army.

Credit: Richard Galustian is a business and security analyst who has lived in Libya since 2011.