Bernardino Leon interview with Alarabiya’s Panorama program, 16 October 2014
"As you may know we have had two meetings already, one in Ghedames where both parties agreed to start a political process, and the recent one in Tripoli. It was the first time after weeks and even months of confrontation when the two sides could meet again in Tripoli, and this was on the occasion of a very important visit, the visit of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon.
This is the beginning of a process and it is going to be a long and difficult process as the country is in a very difficult situation. It is divided with two parliaments two governments. It is divided on the ground, with militias in different places, and as you also described heavy fighting today in Benghazi and the possibility of confrontations in the west which is a matter also of huge concern for us.
So we are at the beginning of a process. We have a chance for this dialogue to be successful, and on the other hand we have people fighting on the ground a war which we think is going to lead nowhere. We don't think Libya has a military solution, and the prospect if people continue to fight will be a country in even farther and greater chaos.
What we are trying to do at the moment is dialogue between members of the House of Representatives. This is the only parliament which is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people by the international community
But as you know, some members of this House of Representatives are not attending the gathering in Tobruk because they think that, first the rules of procedure guaranteeing that consensus will be the rule for the key decision of parliament have to be guaranteed.
This is the main purpose of dialogue we are having today. It will not solve all the problems of Libya. But it will solve a very important one, which is the parliament and maybe after the parliament is solved the possibility of a national unity government. Again, a parliament and a government will not solve all the problems the country has. It will not solve the problems posed by many armed groups, many militias fighting on the ground, will not solve a very serious problem Libya has of terrorists in the east of the country and maybe in the south.
We have expressed concerns about the presence of al-Qaida people. There is a procedure that has started in New York to declare Ansar Al-Sharia as terrorist group. So, we have these problems. Also, as you mentioned some militias are acting in Benghazi. We have seen attacks by the brigades directed by Mr. Haftar which are attacking Tripoli right after the visit of the Secretary General which is also dangerous and complicate escalating factor in the east of the country. So let me insist, this is a dialogue necessary to solve the institutional chaos in the country but it will not be enough. We will have to do a lot after this dialogue continues, hopefully if it is successful.
You are right. This is Step One. I have used sometimes a quote which is that 1000-Km trip starts with one step. This is one step at the beginning of a very long journey. But we have said that this dialogue requires the best possible conditions to take place. Let me say that these conditions be ideally a ceasefire. The parties have asked all the brigades, all the armed groups on the ground to stop fighting, to give an opportunity to talks because we have a very complicated region. We have conflict in different countries and probably these other conflicts, some of them I understand you are going to talk later in the program, but Libya is a country that could have a solution through dialogue, could have a solution through negotiations. I am sure it will not be ideal solution for both sides. I am sure no one of them will get in this political process 100 percent of what they want but I am sure it will be much better to reach this reasonable deal through talks than continue to fighting a war that is going to lead nowhere. No side has the possibility to prevail completely on the other. So, this will mean just years of confrontation as have seen in other countries.
So, we have to focus on serious problems like terrorism, we have to focus on serious problems like the humanitarian situation in Libya and all countries, all friend countries of Libya should try to encourage these talks in order to concentrate and focus on all the problems in the region. This probably will have multiple solutions for which today I don't think there is a prospect of a peaceful or a negotiated solution.
You are right also to say that these armed groups are not part of the dialogue. We have said there should be one negotiation with politicians and in parallel a process to try to reach out to these brigades, these militias and to implement the ceasefire. This is not going to be easy but you are right the dialogue is with politicians and a different process is reaching out to these brigades.
Absolutely, we have said many times that neighbours can play an important role. And there is one reason. The countries that have large borders with Libya, such as Egypt or Algeria, are part of the same region and are sharing the same problems. If you have terrorism in Libya, if you have confrontation and fighting in Libya this will heavily affect neighbouring countries. Not only
Egypt or Algeria, also Chad, Niger and Sudan but it will equally affect the northern neighbor, the European Union. So, all of them are particularly interested in promoting this dialogue through the United Nations. The United Nations is a neutral, evenhanded facilitator, which is trying to lay bridges between both sides. It is perceived as such by both sides and this why we have been able to make some progress. But it will not be possible for us to do it alone; we will need the support of the international community, particularly the neighbouring states. If they push hard for these talks and we have seen recent initiatives, Algeria is proposing some ideas, Egypt has recently issued a statement welcoming dialogue. If they push hard for dialogue there will be a chance but it is very important they are fully and absolutely engaged with this dialogue, with this peaceful prospect.
You are absolutely right. Terrorism is a huge concern for the international community. The region has already seen the presence of terrorist groups in other areas in the Sahel. We had recently the crisis in Mali. And of course, there is a huge concern because we know there is presence of Al-Qaida, maybe of ISIS, we are not sure, but it could be the case. There are reports of some groups already affiliating to ISIS. So, we have to work to isolate and to fight terrorism.
The question here is that if there is more confrontation and fighting between the groups that the mainstream groups that are fighting today, our analysis is that this will only weaken both sides and this will only reinforce the terrorists. So, this is another reason, another important reason for both sides to reach an agreement and to work together with the international community to fight terrorism in the areas where they are present. Let me say we have said time and again that there is a sense of urgency here. We don't have years to solve this crisis because there are many threats to the fragile process.
We have just started and probably one of the most important threats is the presence of terrorism. This is why we are conveying to the parties that they have to reach an agreement as soon as possible - we are talking about weeks - because if not it might be too late and it might just give time to these terrorist groups to become more important in the country.
Let me say that there is, as I mentioned before, a huge concern about the humanitarian situation in Libya. I said concern about humanitarian and concern about terrorism and security. I will dwell now on the humanitarian crisis.
There are hundreds of thousands of displaced inside Libya. There are areas that need urgently humanitarian assistance. We are now in contact with the different authorities in the west of the country to coordinate and try to provide this assistance and there are many countries in Europe that are willing to assist.
I am attending next Monday the Council of European Foreign Ministers that will take place in Luxembourg. We are going to discuss Libya among other matters and I know that Europeans are very keen to provide this support. Let me also remind that the countries in the region, particularly
Tunisia is enduring a very difficult situation because of the presence of maybe up to a million Libyans which in a small country like Tunisia represents a huge challenge.
They are trying to cope with it. But also Tunisia will need the support of the international community to address this problem. And it is not the only one. All the countries in the region are also trying to support and hosting refugees from this country.
Like in every negotiation in a country that has had confrontation building trust is extremely important. You are right. One of the problems we are facing is the lack of trust together with lack of total cohesion in both camps. It is also something frequent in these kind of situations. You have people more moderate and prone to the talks and people who have more trust in the military option. So, this is something where we are investing a lot of effort.
Though I have to tell you we were surprised after the first meeting in Ghedames. Both delegations before they met each other, we were very cautious to avoid before the meeting any clash, any recrimination between both groups. I can tell you that the moment these two delegations met in Ghedames they were acting as brothers who haven't met for some time. They were embracing, they were asking about their families because this is the situation in Libya. These tribes these villages these cities are not isolated. There are many family links there are many historic contexts between all of them. So, nobody is isolated in its own city. These strong links in the Libya society, together with not strong ideological differences between both sides make us believe that there is one chance. I wouldn't say there are many chances for this dialogue to be successful. As I said before, there are many threats and this is why because the process is fragile, it is vulnerable, we are asking all the support of all the friends of Libya. But there is definitely one chance, trust is now better, parties are getting closer to each other, the leaders of both negotiating teams, Mr. Shoeb, the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, and Mr. Bashagha have the full support of the international community, and it is now very important that all the Libyan society also to push for this peaceful opportunity.
The only alternative to this will be years of war, years of suffering for the Libyan people.
As you probably know, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Tripoli, he only met in Tripoli with representatives of the House of Representatives, with members of the House of Representatives. The message cannot be clearer. The international community is ready to work with this legitimate parliament and would like to see this parliament working on an inclusive way that all groups, all members of parliament feel confident that the rules of procedure will be based on consensus. And if it is the case, as in any other parliament in the world, I am sure Libyans can have the same. If this is the case, then I am sure there could be an agreement for this parliament to be the only one, as it is today recognized by the international community, to be equally recognized by all Libyans as the only parliament. And then to have a government voted in this parliament, which will also be a national unity government, very strong, able to take the important decisions this country needs about state building, about building a strong national army, strong police, strong judiciary and strong institutions that Libya badly needs.
No. There are no differences. We are - the United Nations is - as I said before promoting this dialogue between parliamentarians, and all countries in the region think this is the right way to start, trying to solve the institutional problems and gradually to address other problems in the near future.
Other initiatives like the one Algerians are working on are addressed to wider, larger group of political and social representatives but it is not incompatible, incoherent with what the United Nations is doing. It could be complimentary
I think for the moment, Algeria is listening, is working in contact with the parties. Egypt also chairs the political group of the neighbouring country and I'm sure they are following very closely what the international community, particularly the United Nations, is trying to do. Let me insist once and again this is the only opportunity. Neighbouring countries know that there is no alternative to dialogue and the political agreement. So, any international intervention which might support the continuing of the fighting is not going to help, is not going to be helpful for the Libyans. The international support, the international efforts should be addressed to support political dialogue and the political process.
Thank you very much. It has been a pleasure.