Transcript of Press Conference by Stephanie Williams, A/SRSG and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya
Palais des Nations, Geneva, 21 October
Acting Special Representative: Good morning. After two days of the first face-to-face direct talks between the two Libyan delegations to the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, these talks which have been marked by a great degree of patriotism and professionalism and an insistence on maintaining Libya’s unity and sovereignty, I am pleased to report that the two sides have reached agreement on several important issues which directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people. These points of agreement are:
- The 5+5 have agreed to the opening of the land routes that connect all the regions and cities of Libya. The parties agreed to initiate joint security arrangements, with a special focus on the roads for the land routes from Schwerif to Sebha and to Murzuq, and from Abu Grein to Jufra and on the coastal road from Misrata to Sirte and onwards to Ajdabiya. As you may be aware, while socio-economic conditions have deteriorated all over Libya, they are especially dire in the south of the country, which has traditionally been marginalised and deprived of basic services, such as the delivery of fuel and the absence of cash. The decisions taken by the 5+5 will therefore have a direct and material positive impact on the lives of the Libyan people.
- The 5+5 have also agreed to the opening of air routes throughout Libya, and especially flights to Sebha, which is the administrative capital of the southern region. The delegations directed that the civilian aviation authorities take all necessary measures to open these air routes as quickly as possible.
- The 5+5 agreed upon the need to end the use of inflammatory and escalatory media rhetoric, to halt the use of hate speech, and they urged the judicial authorities to take the necessary deterrent measures to hold accountable the channels and social media platforms that have been promoting hate speech and inciting violence, while ensuring that freedom of expression and speech is protected. They also agreed to send a direct message to these channels and platforms, including those attached to both parties to the conflict, to urge them to refrain from airing content that constitutes hate speech.
- The two sides also agreed to support and continue the current state of calm on the front lines and to avoid any military escalation.
- They also agreed to support efforts underway, especially those taken by the elders’ councils, towards the exchange of detainees. The 5+5 identified points of contact for the eastern and western regions in order to facilitate and to coordinate these efforts, and here I would like to thank and acknowledge the efforts by a number of important Libyan leaders to encourage these efforts, and I salute the great work of the elders’ councils.
- With regard to the issue of the full resumption of oil production, the two sides agreed to delegate the commanders of the petroleum facilities guards from the east and west of the country to work directly with a representative appointed by the National Oil Corporation to present a proposal for the restructuring of the petroleum facilities guards to the 5+5, and this will ensure the increase and continuation of the flow of Libya’s oil.
These agreements reached by the two sides in the last two days are based on the recommendations that were put forward by the Joint Military and Security Committee that met last month in the Egyptian city of Hurgada. The two sides to the 5+5 Joint Military Commission will today take up the issue of arrangements for Libya’s central region, paving the way for a ceasefire agreement. I would like here to note that the fourth round of these military talks is occurring against the backdrop of many positive developments, including the continuation of calm on the front lines, the resumption of half of the country’s oil production with force majeure having been lifted on Sharara, which is Libya’s largest oil field. The increased social and political fluidity between and amongst Libyans, an example of which was the visit over the weekend to Misrata by eastern elders to visit detainees and to discuss an exchange of detainees.
On the political front, UNSMIL is in the final stages of preparations for the launch of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, with the virtual preparatory meeting of the forum to take place on October 26th, and the in-person meeting to take place in Tunis beginning on November 9th. In the leadup to these political talks, the Mission has held a number of consultations with a broad range of Libyan stakeholders and constituencies, including, I would note, with young Libyans and with the Libyan municipalities. Over the weekend, I launched our youth track in a meeting with 40 young Libyan men and women and I have requested that they present recommendations for the political track. We also, over the weekend, conducted a digital dialogue which witnessed the participation of 1,000 dynamic young Libyans. In addition, we continue to see the conducting of municipal elections around the country, with recent polling taking place in Zawya’s South, Kabow, Jado and Al-Haraba, and this of course is a great expression of democracy and popular participation and selection of their representatives.
So in light of this emerging hope and these positive developments, I reiterate the call made by the Secretary-General on the 23rd of March for a global ceasefire, and I urge the two parties negotiating here in Geneva to solve all outstanding issues and forge a lasting ceasefire agreement. Thank you.
Question: To what extent are you optimistic to reach an agreement?
Acting Special Representative: Look, I am quite optimistic. I certainly, from what I have seen in the room in these direct talks, there is an air of seriousness and commitment, and I think this is in addition to the positive developments that I have outlined. Of course, you know, there are continuing worrying developments, which is the socio-economic conditions in the country, which are deteriorating, and of course the COVID pandemic is increasing exponentially in the country. All of this is contributing to a deterioration of living standards. And of course there continues to be a great deal and degree of foreign intervention in the country. What I think makes these talks important is that these are Libyan-Libyan talks, this will be a Libyan-owned solution, and what I see as I said in the beginning of my remarks, is a real determination to preserve the country’s unity and sovereignty.
Question: It is sure that the confidence-building measures that you announced today are very important for the human being, for the ordinary citizen in Libya, in all Libya. Do you think that these confidence-building measures meet any kind of observance that should be implemented on the ground, because as you know there are many factors, elements, militias etc., that could jeopardise these confidence-building measures? And do you expect, by the end of this fourth session, you can make substantial progress towards the ceasefire until Sunday or Saturday? Thank you.
Acting Special Representative: Look, on the confidence-building measures, they are already starting. So, you know, last week, we saw a flight that took place between Tripoli and Benghazi. They are going to resume the regular schedule of flights between these two major Libyan cities, west and east, towards the end of this week. The parties here have determined that, you know, flights should be opened throughout the country, with both a special emphasis on Sebha. You know, the UN Mission is in Libya to help the Libyans. But what I am really impressed by is the fact that they are doing this themselves. These are Libyan solutions, you know, the civil aviation authorities are coordinating amongst themselves, you know, to launch the flights. They are taking the necessary measures on their own, and I think that is really the most optimistic and positive development that I have seen. After all, it is their country and Libya is for Libyans. And that is why I continue to be very optimistic that the parties here are going to reach a more last and permanent ceasefire.
Question: Are you expecting Prime Minister Sarraj to then follow through and resign at the end of this month, and what sort of impact will that have on the process that you are steering here, please?
Acting Special Representative: So I think Prime Minister Sarraj was quite serious in his announcement, in his desire to depart and to turn the authority over to a new executive, and that is why, was one of the reasons, why of course we are pressing forward on the political talks. Of course, the ultimate objective of the political talks and the political process is the holding of national elections, which in our broad consultations, and this really goes back to a couple of years with the national conference process but also more recently as we have been in discussions with a number of Libyan constituencies, there is an overwhelming call for the holding of national elections to address the crisis of legitimacy in Libya. Elections for a president and parliamentary elections with a constitutional basis. So, I think Mr. Sarraj has taken a very courageous decision. I think it presents the Libyan people with an opportunity to forge a new political arrangement, which will end this long period of transition and move the country towards a more durable and permanent and democratically-elected government and institutions.
Question: (translation from French) My question concerns the role of outside forces, especially the role of Turkey in the west, and the other parties in the east. How can you reach results of the meeting here in Geneva, while the role of these countries still exist, especially the role of Turkey?
Acting Special Representative: Look, as I said in my remarks, the degree of foreign intervention and foreign interference in Libya is unacceptable. These countries need to take their hands off of Libya. We need to transform negative external interference into positive assistance for the Libyan people as they come together, as they unify their institutions, and as they build a secure, stable and prosperous future.
Question: There is a contact with the foreign forces like Turkey, like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, about this problem especially. Thank you.
Acting Special Representative: Yes, of course, the Mission is in touch with a number of countries. Of course, everything that we are doing here in Geneva, the military talks, we have an economic track, we have a political track, we have an international humanitarian law and human rights track, all of this is taking place under the umbrella of the Berlin conference, of the conclusions that were reached on the 19th of January of this year and enshrined in Security Council resolution 2510. These countries have pledged to abide by the commitments to which they signed up to in Berlin, and they need to always recommit and adhere to those commitments.
Question: Good morning. If you could tell us perhaps the things that remain to be resolved, what you see as some of the more difficult ones. And, just again on the prospect of a permanent ceasefire. You said that you are quite optimistic. Could you tell us a little bit more what gives you the reasons for that optimism? Thank you.
Acting Special Representative: Well, I have reasons for my optimism - directly here there is the real spirit of professionalism, conviviality that I see between the two delegations, where they have easily come together and in just two days have addressed some really important issues, and as I said these are issues which directly impact the lives of their compatriots. And this was really an area of focus, including in their opening remarks to these talks, that they feel they have a responsibility to their fellow Libyans, to make a difference in their lives, and that is why they have made these important decisions, about re-opening roads, resuming flights, easing the delivery of much-needed services to parts of the country, particularly the south, which have been historically deprived of these services. And I expect that this positive atmosphere is going to continue as they start to dig in what are, yes, the more thorny issues of the arrangements in central Libya. But we are in a sense in a bit of a race against time here because of the conditions in the country and frankly because of the degree of flagrant foreign intervention and blatant violations of the arms embargo. So, I think we should all lift our voices and help the Libyans here and encourage them to continue to come together to forge their own future.
Question: Thank you so much for coming to see us and hope we are going to see more of you. I just wanted to know if you can tell us a little bit more about the demilitarization of Sirte, in particular, what the status is there? And could you also give us a sort of a preview as to what is going to happen in Tunisia. Could we expect a face-to-face meeting between Sarraj and Haftar?
Acting Special Representative: With regard to the conditions in the central region, yes there has been a focus, especially on the city of Sirte. But I must say that, you know, there are civilians living throughout the central region who also, you know, need to be reached and could potentially be directly in harm’s way. With regard to the focus around Sirte, of course for the United Nations, it is to ensure that the 130,000 plus civilians who reside in that city that we protect them, that we remove them from harm. And in that regard, I would note that of course the city of Sirte has been subjected to violence and chaos over the last nine years, including recently, you know, in the last several years the battle to eject Daesh from that city, the presence of Daesh which subjected civilian population to great violence and harm. So, we are of course focused on the city of Sirte, and the arrangements more generally in the central region. With regard to the upcoming political talks in Tunisia, look I think we have to get out of the bilateral paradigm, which I think has been too much of the focus of the solutions only being forged by certain political or other leaders in the country. What we are building, for the first talks in Tunisia, the first round of talks, is an inclusive dialogue that goes beyond certain names and personalities. This would include all of the relevant political forces, but also other constituencies, including representatives of the former regime, including the country’s minorities, including, there will be a substantial representation of women, and there will be representation of youth. And this is, I think, the only way that you can build a political process, is to ensure that, you know, no one is excluded from this important discussion.
Question: Hello, thank you for taking my question. I was just wondering how soon do you expect the announcements that you made to become concrete, opening the roads, opening airways, is this going to happen immediately, if there are delays? What do you expect? As I understood, the situation is quite urgent on the ground.
Acting Special Representative: So, the two sides have agreed to joint mechanisms, particularly on the issue of opening the roads, they will work together. They are going to do this quickly because of the conditions on the ground and the need for them to be able to enable, you know, movement on the roads. With regard to things like the flights, this is the work of the civil aviation authorities and the 5+5 has recommended that these authorities take this up very quickly. Look, they were able to move very quickly on the flight between Tripoli and Benghazi, and so I expect a similar rapid movement on these other flights.
Question: Good morning. Thank you for your briefing. During this month, the Libyan Government said that they discovered two mass graves in the city of Tarhouna, which is another mass grave since this March. I am just wondering if you had any chance to share your opinion with Libyan parties on accountability of those responsible for these mass graves? Thank you. Just let me finish, the Libyan Government says these mass graves, these people killed by warlord Khalifa Haftar, thank you.
Acting Special Representative: Of course we were all horrified by the discovery of mass graves in the city of Tarhouna. So, the ICC has visited Libya and is working with the Libyan authorities. Look, the issue of accountability is central to any comprehensive solution to the Libyan crisis. This is why the work of the international humanitarian law and human rights working group, under the Berlin conference umbrella, is very important. There is also of course the fact-finding mission, which was approved by the Human Rights Council back in June, and is undertaking its work as we speak. There can be no peace without accountability and these investigations that are taking place must be done thoroughly.
Question: If we see half of the glass full, with the confidence-building measures, how do you plan to solve the other hard issues, which are dismantling the illegal armed militias and also the departure of the mercenaries and foreign forces?
Acting Special Representative: So, on the last issue which you raised, which is the departure of mercenaries and foreign forces, in the first two rounds of these talks, the two sides came quite easily to consensus on the fact that when a ceasefire agreement is reached, all foreign forces and mercenaries must depart the country within 90 days under UN supervision, so the UN would monitor the departure of these forces. Again, I think this gets to the heart, of now, you know, Libya’s sovereignty has really been touched and violated in ways that are quite alarming to Libyans themselves. On the issue of DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) and security sector reform, yes, this is also part and parcel, the work first of all of the security working group, which comes under the Berlin process, but also again within the 5+5, the two sides agreed in the first couple of rounds, you know, to designate a sub-committee that would work on the efforts to dismantle the armed groups and reintegrate their members, as well as the broad topic of security sector reform. There are already DDR efforts underway, particularly in western Libya, I mean, I think these are important. Of course, once we have a unified executive, where you have, you know, one Ministry of Defence, one Ministry of Interior, it will be important to continue and to sustain these efforts and to make sure that they are reflected across the country. The problem of armed groups is not a problem solely found in western Libya, it is a phenomenon that is present around the country.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, thanked Ms. Williams and reminded correspondents that the fourth round of the Libyan Joint Military Committee is expected to continue until Saturday, 24th of October, and she will keep them informed about this. Arrangements for the coverage of arrivals will continue with a media pool because of the current health issues. The transcript of the press conference will be distributed.