European top diplomats visit Libya in show of support

By: AFP      Published: 08:11 PM, 25 Mar, 2021
European top diplomats visit Libya in show of support

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy were in Tripoli to meet their Libyan counterpart Thursday in a show of support for the war-torn country's newly formed unity government.

The visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Germany's Heiko Maas and Italy's Luigi Di Maio comes 10 days after the formation of an interim government to lead Libya to December 24 elections.

The three European diplomats were set to meet interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and UN special envoy Jan Kubis before holding a joint news conference with their Libyan counterpart Najla al-Mangoush.

In a statement ahead of the meeting, Maas hailed the agreement to establish a unity government in Libya but warned that much more needed to be done.

"Developments in Libya are one of the few glimmers of hope in foreign affairs over the past year. Where there was war a year ago, the weapons have fallen silent," he said.

Maas said Thursday's visit aimed to show their "support for the new government in the next steps".

Libya descended into chaos after dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, resulting in multiple forces vying for power.

Fighting only came to a halt last summer, and a formal ceasefire in October was followed by the establishment of a new Government of National Unity (GNU) led by Dbeibah.

Dbeibah was sworn in last week after parliament approved his cabinet in a move hailed by key leaders and foreign powers as "historic".

The new transitional executive emerged from a complex UN-sponsored process launched in November, and its members were confirmed by Libya's parliament on March 10.

Foreign elements

The country had been divided between two rival administrations: the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, and its rival in the east loyal to military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The eastern administration officially handed over power to the new executive on Tuesday, a week after Fayez al-Sarraj, the outgoing head of the GNA, formally ceded to the new unity government.

In spite of a long-running arms embargo, the GNA was backed by Qatar and Turkey while Haftar received support from Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

Haftar has not officially taken part in the political negotiations.

Libya's population of seven million, sitting atop Africa's largest proven crude oil reserves, faces a dire economic crisis with soaring unemployment, crippling inflation and endemic corruption.

Another key challenge will be ensuring the departure of an estimated 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters still in the country, whose presence Dbeibah has called "a stab in our back".

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he "remains deeply concerned" that "foreign elements" continue to operate in the North African country, in a report discussed by Security Council members on Wednesday.

"I reiterate my call on all national, regional and international actors to respect the provisions of the ceasefire agreement in order to ensure its full implementation without delay," Guterres wrote.

"This includes complete and unconditional respect for and compliance with the United Nations arms embargo."

Thursday's visit comes after President Emmanuel Macron said France would reopen its embassy in the Libyan capital next week.

Other countries including Egypt and Malta have also announced their intention to reopen embassies in Tripoli.