New UN envoy to Libya vows 'respect' for sovereignty
The new UN envoy to Libya on Saturday started his first visit to the conflict-plagued North African country with a pledge to "respect" its sovereignty and unity.
Ghassan Salame, a Lebanese academic and former culture minister, takes over from Martin Kobler with the task of leading political unity talks between rival factions in the deeply divided country.
He flew in to Mitiga airport, a former air base in Tripoli, and held talks with Fayez al-Sarraj, the embattled head of a UN-backed Government of National Accord contested by a rival administration in eastern Libya.
"I assume my role with the utmost respect for the national sovereignty, independence and unity of Libya," Salame told a news conference flanked by Sarraj at the prime minister's office in the capital.
The talks focused on the economic, political and security "challenges" facing Libya since its 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, the UN envoy said.
Salame said the meeting with Sarraj, also attended by Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Taher Siala, had been "constructive" and that they had "agreed on the urgency to end the suffering of the Libyan people".
The UN mission would return in stages to its headquarters in Tripoli, which it had left in the aftermath of fierce fighting in 2014 between rival militias.
Sarraj said he briefed Salame on an agreement he reached with military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east and backs the rival administration, for a ceasefire, political talks and elections.
The deal was struck last month at talks hosted by French President Emmanual Macron, and it has been endorsed by the UN Security Council.
It is the latest attempt to put an end to six years of chaos in oil-rich Libya where rival militias and administrations have been vying to control the country's wealth and cities.
- 'Complete what we started' -
The chaos has hampered Libya's efforts to rebuild its economy which is heavily dependent on oil, and improve condition for its war-weary citizens who complain of water and electricity shortages and spiralling prices.
People trafficking from Libya has also been a source of great concern for Europe.
The United Nations has been struggling for months to relaunch talks on a deal reached in 2015 on setting up a national unity government that has been rejected by Haftar and other factions.
Sarraj has struggled to assert his authority across Libya since he took office in Tripoli in March 2016, and the deal he struck with Haftar last month is seen as a new attempt to restore stability in Libya.
"It is important to step forward and complete what we started," Sarraj said, referrring to the UN-backed political agreement struck in December 2015 that paved the way for the creation of his unity government.
At the end of July, Sarraj called for a referendum on a draft constitution approved by a special elected panel following years of wrangling.
If passed, the draft text would make Libya a republic with a president and two houses of parliament. Tripoli would remain the capital, Islam the state religion and Islamic law a source of legislation.
Last month, Sarraj announced a political roadmap for his country, with presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in March 2018.
Under Kadhafi's four-decade dictatorship Libya had no constitution.
© 2017 AFP