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Libyan sides pick interim government for elections

Delegates to a U.N.-backed forum in Geneva chose four Libyans to lead a transitional government that will oversee nationwide elections in late December.

Stephanie Williams, the U.N. acting special envoy for Libya, at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum
Stephanie Williams, the U.N. acting special envoy for Libya, at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (AN/UNSMIL/Jean Marc Ferré)

GENEVA (AN) — Delegates to a United Nations-backed forum in Geneva chose four Libyans on Friday to lead a transitional government that will oversee nationwide elections in late December.

The nearly 75 delegates representing Libya's warring sides approved a four-person slate to balance regional and political interests, according to the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum's narrow vote in favor of the slate, 39-34 with one abstention, capped a political process that U.N. Web TV and some Libyan television channels helped to reinforce as transparent by streaming it live.

The forum was created to represent all three main regions of Libya, which has been split between rival governments and militias that have been vying for power and oil since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising deposed and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Libyan diplomat Mohammad Younes Menfi was selected to lead a three-person presidential council along with Mossa al-Koni and Abdullah Hussein al-Lafi, UNSMIL said. Libyan businessman Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was chosen to serve as interim prime minister, defeating a competing slate headed by Libyan lawmaker Aguila Saleh and government official Fathi Bashagha.

"The importance of the decision that you have taken here today will grow with the passage of time in the collective memory of the Libyan people," Stephanie Williams, the U.N. acting special envoy for Libya, told the forum. "Our bet was that you would be able to build a truly Libyan-owned solution. And that is what you have done."

The Swiss-hosted forum, which for security reasons met in an undisclosed location around Geneva, functioned as a springboard to national elections that are scheduled for December 24. The date was chosen because of its symbolic importance; it is a public holiday and will mark the 70th anniversary of Libya declaring its independence from Britain and France in 1951.

Williams said the next immediate "challenges" are for Dbeibah to form a Cabinet within 21 days and present a work program to lawmakers for approval within another 21 days.

The interim government also must support the cease-fire agreement and meet the election date, she said, and launch "a comprehensive national reconciliation process" that promotes amnesty, tolerance, truth-seeking and reparation.

"You have demonstrated your political strength throughout this process," she told the forum, "and you must continue to work in the same spirit to ensure that the aspirations and clear demands of the Libyan people do not remain unfulfilled and unanswered."

More challenges ahead

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the forum's actions as "very good news in our search for peace" and said it "shows that Libya is moving in the right direction." Libya’s two main warring factions agreed in November to hold nationwide elections for the presidency and parliament with the aim of creating an effective and unified government.

The agreement was made between the military coalition of renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who took control of lands in the east and south, and forces loyal to Libya’s prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and his U.N.-backed Government of National Accord.

It was reached as a follow-up on a cease-fire agreement that also required the withdrawal of military forces sent by Russia, Turkey and other regional powers.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Haftar’s main supporters, supplied his forces with arms as he blockaded oil exports. Turkey sent arms and troops to the U.N.-backed government in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, also supported by Italy and Qatar.

Five Western governments — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States — welcomed the forum's choice of an interim government and urged all Libyan factions to keep working together.

"This critical step towards reaching a negotiated, inclusive political solution is the result of a genuinely Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process, the mediation of the United Nations, and the support of the Libyan people," the five governments said in a joint statement.

"A long road still lies ahead. The unified executive authority will have to implement the cease-fire agreement, provide essential public services to the Libyan people, initiate a program for meaningful reconciliation, address critical national budget needs, and organize national elections," they said. "We stand ready to hold to account those who threaten stability or undermine the political process in Libya."