Delegations Back in Tripoli and Tobruk, Will the Agreement Stand?
Several developments have been registered in the past days with regards to Libya confirming the trend that only pro-active engamente by international stakeholders can encourage positive developments on the ground at this stage. UN backed negotiations held in the Moroccan town of Skhirat were adjourned for the third time on Thursday 26 March. At this time, UNSMIL’s Chief Bernardino Leon was reportedly optimistic after both parties agreed to a detailed proposal on the scope of issues and institutions that should emerge alongside a national unity government as a result of talks. More specifically, as reported by the Libya Herald:
– A unity government headed by a President, and a Presidential Council composed of independent personalities not belonging to any party or affiliated with any group, and are acceptable to all parties and by all Libyans. The main members of the Presidential Council will be the president and his two deputies.
– The House of Representatives as a legislative body representing all Libyans under the full application of principles of legitimacy and inclusion.
– A High State Council inspired by similar institutions existing in a number of countries. A fundamental institution in the governance of the State
– The Constitutional Drafting Assembly.
A mechanism of cooperation between these institutions will be agreed on to achieve consensus at this critical stage.
– National Security Council.
– Municipalities Council.
The last two proposed bodies, UNSMIL said, would be shaped in the later stages of the talks.
Talks are scheduled to resume next week after a ten day hiatus to allow representatives on both sides of the divide to obtain the approval of the main institution backing each bloc: the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the rump General National Council in Tripoli. Clearly, the question everyone is asking right now is whether this time agreement reached under the auspices of the UN will stand or if it will be undermined once again by hardliners on both sides. Despite Leon’s tentative optimism, observers are in fact very cautious to describe recent developments as a ‘break through’ since already in the past the striking of a grand deal between main national blocs appeared within reach only to slip away as a result of pressures applied from within both blocs by hardliners opposing the political rapprochement process. As predictable, in fact, fractures and instability within both blocs are starting to resurface, with Thinni ranting at length against his Misratan Ministry of Interior – Omar al-Sinki- and cabinet in an interview with Tunisian media, while the rump GNC in Tripoli has sacked Omar al-Hassi from his post as ‘Prime Minister’ due to increasing internal pressures. Dialogue and negotiations continue nonetheless to be the only option on the table for international stakeholders that last week, on Friday 27 March, unanimously approved through the UN Security Council a resolution on Libya that keeps in place the arms embargo and renews for another six months the mandate of the UNSMIL mission.
The most significant breakthrough made thanks to the political rapprochement process remains, so far, the agreement reached last week between Operation Shuruq troops and Operation Dignity-aligned forces entrenched in the ‘Oil Crescent’ region, mostly federalist-aligned Petroleum Facilities Guard, which could lead to a full stabilisation of the ‘Oil Crescent’ region. The agreement would entail in fact a complete pull out of Operation Shuruq troops from the ‘Oil Crescent’ region. As a result of this, even though security checks and damage assessment on both Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals still need to be undertaken, NOC officials are now aiming to re-open the ports in the ‘Oil Crescent’ region to provide the country’s economy with a much needed lifeline. Presently, Libya’s oil production has reportedly reached 622,000bpd according to a report issued on Thursday 26 March by the National Oil Corporation based in Tripoli, well below the pre-Revolution and pre-Operation Shuruq levels. The same report stated that the country’s gas production is 2.05 billion cubic feet a day. However, recent industry report indicated that currently the country’s oil output is fluctuating around 500,000bpd with the following distribution among producers: ~200,000bpd from ENI, ~71,000bpd from Sirte’s Oil Company and ~250,000 from the Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) in the east of the country. Officials from the NOC confirmed that for the time being the bulk of crude and export was occurring through the eastern port of Hariga and Zueitina where 1.3M barrels have been loaded over the last two days.
Notwithstanding progress made in the ‘Oil Crescent’ region, however, Italy has decided to send a naval fleet to protect Italian shipping and oil rigs from possible disruptive attacks originating from the coast of Libya. The mission has been dubbed ‘Mare Sicuro’ (Safe Sea) and will reportedly involve: a landing helicopter dock vessel, two FREMM-class frigates, a patrol vessel and Predator UAVs. Furthermore, reports indicate that a contingent of marines will also be joining the mission using high-speed craft to intercept and board suspicious shipping. Although Italy’s mission will not benefit from any international or UN mandate and will thus be limited in its scope of action and engagement, this decision likely represents an attempt by the Italian government to lead the way for a UN or EU-backed broader effort in this area of the Mediterranean along the blueprint of what previously done with the ‘Mare Nostrum’ mission. This initiative, aimed at monitoring, rescuing and possibly deterring migration flows towards the coast of Italy was kick-started by the Italian government and then picked-up by the EU in the summer of 2014. With regards to Libya, overall observers should be careful about seeing this decision as a turn towards the military option, but should rather see it as a way for the Italian government to protect its immediate interests and assets in the Mediterranean, whilst providing a concrete answers to possible fears mounting inside the country as to radical Islamists’ presence in nearby Libya and Tunisia. Lastly, the decision by italy seems to build on previous recommendations for the establishment of a naval blockade of Libya, so as to avoid the smuggling of weapons and natural resources to and from the country, that were made from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya last month and by UNSMIL’s Chief Bernardino Leon.