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DJ Libya Forms Transitional Unity Government After Years Of Conflict

· 02/05/2021 11:31
By Jared Malsin

Libya's two main warring factions elected a new transitional government at a United Nations-organized summit, taking a tentative step toward political unity after years of conflict that have devastated the North African country.

Delegates at the summit in Geneva on Friday elected a businessman, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, as Libya's prime minister, the U.N.'s acting special envoy for Libya said. He will serve alongside Mohammad Younes Menfi, a former ambassador to Greece, who was elected head of Libya's presidency council.

The country has been split between several governments and multiple militias since 2014, when a transition to democracy that began after the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 unraveled.

The formation of the new government comes months after the end of a 14-month war between the rival factions, which are backed by foreign powers with competing interests that brought them to the brink of direct conflict last year.

Mr. Dbeibah's election came as a surprise, as he beat a rival list of political heavyweights, including the current interior minister in the internationally-recognized government who had hoped to become prime minister.

Still, the new government brings together several known political actors linked to entrenched interests in Libya. Mr. Dbeibah is a relative of Ali Dabaiba, one of Libya's richest men, a former official in the Gadhafi government who was later investigated for embezzlement after the dictator's ouster. Mr. Dabaiba didn't comment on the allegations at the time.

"It's more cynical, but it's also a form of pragmatism," said Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, referring to the choice of the new premier.

Libya's two main factions agreed in October to a cease-fire in the country's civil war following diplomatic pressure from the U.S., Germany, and other countries. Turkey and Russia, which backed opposite sides in the conflict, also agreed to pursue talks toward a cessation of violence in the country.

But the path to resolving Libya's crisis remains uncertain, as 20,000 foreign fighters remain in the country after the outside powers deepened their involvement in the conflict during the recent battle for Tripoli, Libya's capital. They include military contractors sent by Russia and Syrian mercenaries deployed by Turkey.

Turkey sent forces and weapons to support Libya's internationally-recognized government in a battle with Khalifa Haftar -- a militia strongman backing the rival government in the country's east -- who launched a failed attack on Tripoli in 2019. Mr. Haftar receives military backing from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia.

The complex stew of foreign interests in Libya has destabilized the region. The chaos has also allowed Russia to expand its influence in North Africa after Russian military contractors took control of key oil installations in the country last year.

Turkey, Russia, and the U.A.E. continued to supply their Libyan proxies in recent months, officials say, defying a U.N. arms embargo and a cease-fire agreement that called on foreign forces to leave the country. Ten flights from Russia and at least five from Turkey, carrying combat supplies, arrived in the country in January, according to a diplomat with Libya in their portfolio.

Military personnel also dug a defensive trench near the front lines of the conflict in territory controlled by Mr. Haftar's forces and the Wagner Group, according to officials with the U.S.'s Africa Command.

The new government will have to be approved by Libya's parliament. It also must gain acceptance from ordinary Libyans and the country's many rival militia groups.

A spokesman for Mr. Haftar's military forces said this week that the group would respect the outcome of the dialogue in Geneva.

Write to Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 05, 2021 11:31 ET (16:31 GMT)

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