UN Security Council backs Libya unity accord

United Nations envoy to Libya, Mr Martin Kobler (centre, standing), looks on as representatives of Libyan municipalities sign documents to support Libya's new national government on Dec 21, 2015.
United Nations envoy to Libya, Mr Martin Kobler (centre, standing), looks on as representatives of Libyan municipalities sign documents to support Libya's new national government on Dec 21, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council gave its backing on Wednesday (Dec 23) to the new national unity government in embattled Libya, a move it hopes will help stem mass migration to Europe and reverse gains made by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

The 15-nation council gave its support to the deal signed last week in the Moroccan town of Skhirat between representatives of strife-torn Libya's two competing regimes.

British Ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft presented the motion, which he said represents a "strong collective sign of our commitment to Libya's sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity".

"This is just the start of a process to deliver a prosperous and stable future for all Libyans," he declared. "We urge all those who have not yet signed to decide now to support the agreement and to work with the government of national accord."

The United Nations envoy to Libya, Mr Martin Kobler, is now working on arrangements to allow the unity government to safely set up shop in Tripoli, which is under the control of militia fighters.

"I encourage those who are not yet on board to join - the door is wide open," said Mr Kobler after the UN vote, adding that a top priority of the new unified government will be "the fight against Daesh, the threat of Daesh", which he said is expanding towards the east, west and south of Libya.

"Daesh" is  the Arabic acronym used by many to refer to the militant ISIS group, which is also known by the acronyms "ISIL" and "ISIS".

Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with armed factions battling for territory and control of its oil wealth.

Its internationally recognised government was expelled from Tripoli in August 2014 and is based in the east of the country, while another Islamist-backed body holds the capital.

On Dec 17, under UN guidance, envoys from both sides and a number of independent political figures signed a deal to unify the government.

Around 80 of 188 lawmakers from Libya's internationally recognised Parliament and 50 of 136 members of the rival Tripoli-based General National Congress signed the deal.

The agreement calls for a 17-member government, headed by businessman Fayez el-Sarraj as premier, based in the Libyan capital.

A presidential council would also serve for a transitional period of two years until legislative elections.

International officials expect the new government, once installed, to have the authority to request international assistance - perhaps even military intervention - to counter the growing threat from ISIS, which has seized a pocket of territory around Mr Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.

Mr Kobler said it would be able to request exemptions to the UN weapons embargo targeting Libya, with the aim of combatting the militants.

But he underscored growing sentiment in the West that in order to be successful, the fight against ISIS in Libya must be led by Libyan troops.

"The national unity government has to organise a Libyan fight against Daesh, then later the question will arise whether to ask for foreign assistance and it will be up to the government to do so," Mr Kobler said. "The government should concentrate now on bringing all Libyans on the same page in the fight against terrorism."

The new government will also be in position to ask the European Union to extend its naval operation against people-smuggling networks in the Mediterranean, to Libya's coast and territorial waters, as Europe seeks to stem a flow of migrants unseen since World War II.

Washington's UN ambassador, Ms Samantha Power, said Libya's new Government of National Accord, (GNA) with the passage of the resolution "will become the sole legitimate government of Libya".

She added: "The United States urges all Libyans to unite behind the Libyan Political Agreement, and to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the formation of the GNA by working together towards peace, stability, and the rule of law.

"As the GNA works to improve security, we will work closely with it to defeat ISIL affiliates in Libya and eliminate the threat they pose to all of our collective security," she said.