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Peace in sight in Libya – once the GNC agrees

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Most of the warring parties in Libya have finally signed a peace plan. Only the General National Congress is still holding out – but even it should agree to the pact soon, says Kersten Knipp.

It is done: The UN’s peace plan for Libya has been signed. It’s an important step toward peace in a country that has been torn apart by power struggles between rival militias for years.

Whether more steps will follow this is not yet certain, for a central player in the Libyan power matrix is the Islamist-dominated General National Congress, and it has refused to sign the document – at least for now. For weeks, the GNC has blocked the agreement put together by UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon because it did not consider itself sufficiently represented. In other words, the GNC is afraid it will be left with a permanent short straw.

The GNC’s members see themselves as the country’s legitimate national representatives, but they are more or less alone in that. For Libya has another government: that of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, which was democratically elected last summer. It may have been forced to flee to the coastal city of Tobruk under pressure from the Islamists, but it enjoys international recognition.

DW's Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp

More talks

Despite the lack of the GNC’s signature, Leon is convinced that the agreement marks a “really important stop” toward peace. It is perfectly possible that he’s right in that, for the GNC has not dismissed the document outright – only called for improvements.

 

These could well be implemented. The major Western states and Russia have welcomed the agreement. They have even called it “conclusive,” but Leon has already announced that the door for further talks is still open. The government in Tobruk has also kept the possibility of negotiations with the GNC open.

The GNC, for its part, cannot exclude itself from national dialogue in the long term. Apart from the government in Tobruk, the mayors of several Libyan cities – including Tripoli – as well as several important representatives of Libyan civil society, have all signed the deal. And the GNC is also isolated internationally. All in all, its members are likely to rethink whether they want to cling stubbornly to their isolation.

How important the peace agreement is to Libya became clear once again this weekend, when several people were killed in fighting between the army and jihadi groups.

So the GNC is carrying a significant responsibility, both to itself and, more importantly, to the country. It will have to face up to it in the near future – even if it is still playing power poker now.

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