Libyan rivals agree to Dec. 10 elections in lawless country

International By: The Bullet Wire 7:16 am

PARIS (AP) — Rival Libyan leaders meeting in Paris on Tuesday tentatively agreed on a political roadmap leading to parliamentary and presidential elections on Dec. 10, but the plan faces major obstacles in the North African country, where the rival authorities rely on an array of unruly militias.

In an early sign of trouble, the Libyan leaders declined to sign a closing declaration outlining their commitments, which include laying the groundwork for the vote with new electoral laws and establishing a “constitutional basis” by mid-September.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the conference, nevertheless lauded the eight-point declaration as a “crucial step” toward stabilizing the country, which was plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi.

“It’s the first time these Libyan leaders accepted to work together and approved a joint declaration,” Macron said at the close of the brief conference that brought together rivals from Libya’s west and east, representatives of some 20 countries and the U.N. special envoy for Libya. “Now we have clear commitments for the country, an approved calendar” for elections, he said.

The non-binding accord sets a Sept. 16 deadline to “set the constitutional basis” for the elections as well as to adopt electoral laws. The formulation was meant to allow for several options, including amending Libya’s constitution or writing a new charter, Macron said.

The talks brought together Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, head of Libya’s U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, and Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose forces dominate eastern Libya.

The conference aimed to forge a political roadmap that would restore order in Libya, where lawlessness has fed Islamic militancy, human trafficking and instability in the wider region that threatens Europe. Moving toward parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of 2018 was a key goal.

Macron brought Sarraj and Hifter together for a conference last July, producing a 10-point joint declaration that was the first of its kind between the rivals. It, too, looked toward elections, and also a cease-fire. That accord changed little on the ground in Libya, however, and critics dismissed the conference as a photo opportunity.

The U.N. special envoy, Ghassan Salame, suggested that Tuesday’s agreement was a step forward.

“This is a historic meeting. We do not speak in place of the Libyans. It’s the Libyans who agree all together in our presence. This is crucial,” Salame said.

In the eight-point declaration that closed the conference, the Libyan leaders committed to accepting electoral results and ensuring funds and “strong security arrangements” for the voting. They also commit to work on “phasing out parallel government” and on “the unifying of the Libyan Central Bank and other institutions.”

Libya is split between rival governments in the east and west. Representatives of Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, which have backed Hifter and the administration in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk, attended Tuesday’s conference.

The agreement said little about what could prove to be the biggest challenge to holding elections and reuniting the country — an array of Islamist, tribal and other militias that hold real power on the ground.

“Of course there are Libyans who are opposed to this political process, others who are for a ‘status quo’ because they have an interest in it, others who are for disorder and instability. So we must not close our eyes,” an official at the French presidency said ahead of the conference. “They are a minority.”

France is trying to play peacemaker in a country where years of efforts by the United Nations and former colonial power Italy have failed to bring stability.

The International Crisis Group, an NGO on conflict resolution, warned that the Paris conference might unintentionally undermine the U.N.-led peace process.

The group said in a statement Monday that “French organizers should avoid imposing too rigid a framework.” It called for “a broader declaration of principles on political, security and economic steps that would help stabilize and unite the divided country.”

Libya slid into chaos after the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Gadhafi’s in 2011. France was at the forefront of the airstrikes, carried out along with the United States and others, in the NATO operation.

Elections were held shortly after Gadhafi’s demise, but failed to bring stability to the country. In the years since, it has emerged as a major conduit for African migrants hoping to reach Europe.

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Associated Press writers Rami Musa in Benghazi, Libya, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Philippe Sotto in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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