Libyan Rivals Sign Disputed Unity Government Deal

Rival Libyan politicians signed Thursday a deal on a unity government despite opposition on both sides, in what the United Nations described as a “first step” towards ending the crisis.

World powers have urged the warring factions to break a political deadlock that has allowed jihadists and people-smugglers to flourish since the fall of strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

A group of lawmakers from Libya’s rival parliaments, as well as other political figures, inked the U.N.-sponsored accord in the Moroccan resort of Skhirat, an AFP journalist said.

Around 80 of 188 lawmakers from Libya’s internationally recognized parliament and 50 of 136 members of the General National Congress (GNC) signed the deal, participants said.

The deal calls for the formation of a 17-member government, headed by businessman Fayez el-Sarraj as prime minister and including two women, based in Tripoli, and a presidential council to serve for a transitional period of two years up until legislative elections.

The accord has caused deep divisions within Libya’s two legislatures.

The heads of both parliaments have warned that the accord has no legitimacy and that those who signed it represented only themselves.

While Western powers and NATO welcomed Thursday’s deal, U.N. envoy Martin Kobler acknowledged that much remained to be done to end the turmoil in Libya.

“This is just the beginning of a long journey for Libya. Signing is only the first step on the road to putting Libya back on the right track,” he said at the ceremony.

“The door is always open to those who are not here today. The new government must move urgently to address the concerns of those who feel marginalized.”

The signing follows a gathering in Rome of a U.S.- and Italian-led group of world powers and regional players that called on the two sides Sunday to lay down their arms and back a new unity government.

Nouri Abusahmein, who heads the militia-backed GNC in Tripoli that is not recognized by the international community, said Wednesday that the signatories did not represent the parliaments.

“Whoever has not been commissioned by the GNC to sign or initial a deal on its behalf is, and will remain, without legitimacy,” he said.

A government such as that proposed by the United Nations “does not even guarantee the minimum required to ensure its effectiveness,” he added.

On Tuesday in Malta, Abusahmein met Aguila Saleh, who heads the internationally recognized parliament based in Tobruk in the east near the border with Egypt.

Both leaders — in their first meeting since the rival administrations were formed in 2014 —  said that whoever was to sign the agreement represented only themselves.

– Rival peace process –

At the beginning of October, delegations from both sides approved a draft agreement negotiated under the auspices of the U.N., but it was later rejected by their parliaments.

Abusahmein and those MPs who support him are not against an agreement, but say they want more time to negotiate it.

On December 6, members of the two bodies launched an alternative process in Tunis by signing a “declaration of interest” on a unity government, and this process is backed by the two parliament heads.

The country has been mired in chaos since the 2011 overthrow and killing of long-time strongman Gadhafi.

The recognized government says a U.N. arms embargo is hampering the battle against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, which seized control of the coastal city of Sirte in June.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “This agreement means the international community can now engage with one unified, representative government in Libya in the fight against Daesh (IS) and the migrant traffickers.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for “a national unity government to be set up… as soon as possible in Tripoli.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, noting the opposition to the deal, called it “a good starting point.”

“This process has to stay open, inclusive and I hope, I wish that all Libyan parties, all Libyan representatives can join in the near future,” she said.

And Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO which provided air support for rebels in the anti-Gadhafi revolt, welcomed the Skhirat deal.

“This is a significant step on the road to bring peace and stability to the people of Libya,” the NATO secretary general said.