Tripoli – A UN-backed peace agreement to end the split between Libya’s two rival governments ran into trouble on Monday when one of the country’s two parliaments blocked a key clause.
The internationally recognized House of Representatives, meeting in the far eastern city of Tobruk, voted by an overwhelming majority against a provision that would hand control of the armed forces to the UN-backed unity presidential council.
The lawmakers’ move aims to protect the position of hardline Tobruk army chief Khalifa Haftar, who is unacceptable to the rival Islamist-leaning administration, which controls the capital, Tripoli.
The United Nations, European Union and other powers have been pushing for the deal to end Libya’s civil strife, which has allowed the Islamic State extremist group to establish a growing presence in the oil-rich North African state.
The parliament also withheld approval for a unity government proposed by the presidential council and backed by the UN and EU.
It instead asked the council to come back within 10 days with a smaller cabinet line-up, Benghazi parliamentarian Abu Bakr Baira told broadcaster Libya HD.
“Our indication is that they are voting in favour of the agreement with some conditions,” said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, noting that the UN was monitoring the votes.
Under the peace agreement, the unity government had to be approved by the House of Representatives within 10 days of its announcement by the presidential council. That approval came on January 19.
Analyst Mattia Toaldo of the European Council on Foreign Relations said that the vote on the cabinet had short-term implications, and the parliament might approve a revised line-up.
But blocking the handover of military powers pointed to a more serious issue, he said.
“In the long term, it demonstrates that you can’t work around the issue of Haftar. That’s what this is all about,” Toaldo told dpa.
“If you reopen the agreement [as requested by the House of Representatives] … then Tripoli will ask for other changes and you’re back to square one,” he warned.
Toaldo said he was “very pessimistic” about the likelihood of a solution to the impasse over the army chief’s fate.
Libya has suffered from five years of chaos since a 2011 revolt against long-term dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Islamic State militants have taken advantage of the situation to seize a growing area of the central Libyan coast between the western regions controlled by the Tripoli government and its allies and the eastern regions under Tobruk’s influence.
The EU has been drawing up plans for a possible peacekeeping intervention in Libya that could help with the protection of key infrastructure, naval surveillance and border control.
But those plans hinge on the presence of a unity government that could officially request such assistance.
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