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UN offers mediation to put Libya back on path to election

The UN has warned of a new escalation in Libya after a parallel government took office this week and offered to mediate between rival factions to push for long-delayed elections
— Tripoli (AFP)

The United Nations' top official in conflict-scarred Libya offered Friday to mediate between political rivals in a renewed push for long-delayed elections, warning against "escalation" after a parallel government took office.

Stephanie Williams's call came a day after the country's eastern-based parliament swore in a prime minister in a challenge to interim premier Abdulhamid Dbeibah -- a move observers fear could tip Libya into a new schism.

Williams, UN chief Antonio Guterres's special adviser on Libya, warned in a series of tweets that "the solution to Libya's crisis does not lie in forming rival administrations and perennial transitions."

She said she had asked the eastern-based House of Representatives and the High Council of State (HCS), an upper house based in Tripoli, to nominate six delegates each to form a "joint committee dedicated to developing a consensual constitutional basis".

HCS chief Khalid al-Mishri welcomed her offer, saying the body had already "adopted a constitutional basis last September that could be built upon to find a national consensus".

"Yes to elections, no to extensions," he added.

The eastern-based parliament did not issue an immediate public response.

- 'Without resorting to violence' -

Williams's proposal comes after presidential and parliamentary elections, set for December 24 as part of a UN-brokered peace process, were abandoned amid bitter disputes over their constitutional and legal footing as well as the candidacies of several highly contested figures.

That had dashed hopes of drawing a line under a decade of conflict since the 2011 revolt that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The country endured two rival governments from 2014 to early 2021, when Dbeibah's administration was approved by key factions following a ceasefire late the previous year.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States voiced concern Friday at the latest developments, including "reports of violence, threats of violence, intimidation and kidnappings".

"Any disagreement on the future of the political process must be resolved without resorting to violence," foreign ministers from the five countries said in a joint statement.

On Thursday, Libya found itself once again with two prime ministers -- Tripoli-based Dbeibah, who has refused to cede power except to an elected government, and former interior minister Fathi Bashagha, backed by the parliament hundreds of miles to the east.

- 'Transparently' -

Reacting to the statement from Western foreign ministers, Bashagha tweeted that his government's "mission" was to "organise presidential and parliamentary elections transparently and without delay".

In his inaugural speech on Thursday, Bashagha had accused Dbeibah and his allies of shutting the country's airspace and detaining three ministers to prevent them reaching the assembly to be sworn in.

Libyan media outlets reported Friday that foreign minister Hafed Gaddur and the minister for technical education Faraj Khalil had been released.

Gaddur appeared on Libya Al-Ahrar news channel saying: "I'm in good health and I wasn't harmed or mistreated."

Culture minister Saleha al-Toumi's whereabouts were still unclear.

Williams had earlier Friday urged all sides to refrain from "acts of escalation" and pushed politicians to "engage constructively together to move towards elections, for the sake of the 2.8 million Libyans who registered to vote" last year.

She proposed to convene the joint committee on March 15 and to produce a constitutional framework.

Kadhafi had scrapped Libya's constitution after seizing power in a 1969 coup and ruled for four decades through a mixture of a personality cult, tribal alliances, petrodollar patronage and manipulating the military to avoid further coup attempts.

After he was ousted and killed in the NATO-backed uprising, Libyan politicians agreed on a "constitutional declaration".

In 2017, a committee submitted a proposed constitution for parliament to put to a referendum but the vote was never held.