UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The UN Security Council on Thursday voted to extend its political mission in Libya, but by only three months instead of a year-long mandate at Russia’s urging.
The three African members of the council abstained to protest Russia’s blocking of the longer extension they say is needed to help the divided country move towards elections and stability.
Deputy Ambassador of Russia Dmitry Poyansky reiterated Moscow’s position that the UN mission must get a new special envoy before it has a longer mandate.
UN Special Envoy Jan Kubis resigned on November 23 after 10 months in office, and a number of candidates proposed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were rejected by either Council members, Libya or neighboring countries.
After Kubis left, Guterres appointed veteran American diplomat Stephanie Williams, a former deputy UN special envoy in Libya, as his special adviser. But council diplomats said she will leave that post on Sunday, meaning the mission will have no head as Libyans grapple with a constitutional and political crisis.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States shared the frustration of the council’s three African members — Ghana, Kenya and Gabon. She called “flamboyant” Russia’s claim that a three-month extension until October 31 will somehow spur the selection of a new special envoy.
The mission is important to the Libyan people “in supporting election preparations, monitoring the ceasefire, reporting on human rights issues and providing technical assistance related to state finances and budget,” she told the council after the 12-0 Poll.
“It does them and all of us a disservice to play with the mandate,” she added.
Oil-rich Libya has been wracked by conflict since a NATO-backed insurgency toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country has been divided between rival governments, one in the east backed by military commander Khalifa Hifter and a United Nations-backed government in Libya’s capital Tripoli in the west. Each side is supported by various militias and foreign powers.
In April 2019, Hifter and his forces, supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive in an attempt to capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey increased its military support for the United Nations-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
An October 2020 ceasefire agreement led to an agreement in early February 2021 on a transitional government led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and the setting of elections for December 24. But the elections did not take place.
Dbeibah has refused to step down and in response the country’s eastern-based lawmakers elected a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, a former home secretary who now runs a separate administration outside the city of Sirte.
Deputy Secretary-General Martha Pobee told the council Monday the overall situation in Libya remains “very volatile,” with a tense security situation, “deeply disturbing” force demonstrations and sporadic violence by militias involved in political maneuvers.
She also cited a dispute over the leadership of the National Oil Corporation and serious human rights concerns, including the reported arrest by armed groups of dozens of protesters who took part in July 1 demonstrations denouncing deteriorating living conditions and election progress demanded
Polyansky said Russia understands the view of his African counterparts, but he defended limiting the mission’s mandate without appointing a new special envoy, saying it was unusual that the body “has remained headless for quite some time.”
He warned that Libya was “approaching a red line, beyond which armed conflict could resume.”
“What is at stake now is the future of Libya and its people,” Polyansky said after the vote.
Solomon Korbieh, ministerial adviser to the UN mission in Ghana, said the fifth brief extension of the mission’s mandate again demonstrates the failure of the Security Council to “demonstrate its commitment to the Libyan people”.
He urged council members to “put the overall interests of Libya above all else” and to work with the Secretary-General to find a new head of the mission.
“The people of Libya are crying out for elections as a fundamental step in rebuilding their nation, and this council cannot fail them,” Korbieh said.