Libya peace talks begin: what are they likely to achieve?

UN negotiations get under way in Geneva, but many are sceptical a deal can be reached

Libya Dawn militants fire an anti-tank cannon at forces loyal to the country's internationally recognised government near the Wetia military base 
(Image credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations will convene the latest round of peace talks in Geneva today as it tries again to end the conflict in Libya.

Negotiators are pushing for the formation of a national unity government to help end the civil war which has forced thousands to flee across the Mediterranean and allowed Islamic State to establish a base in the country.

The UN argues a unified government is the only way to achieve peace, but analysts warn the proposed deal ignores the root causes of the conflict.

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Libya descended into chaos after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was ousted from power in 2011, since then rival governments and militias have fought for control of the country.

Libya Dawn, an armed militia group allied to the General National Congress (GNC), took control of the capital Tripoli last year, forcing the internationally recognised House of Representatives (HoR) to flee to Tobruk in the east of the country. Meanwhile, Islamic State militants have taken advantage of the power struggle by increasing their presence in Libya, establishing a base around the oil fields of the Sirte basin.

UN-backed talks aimed at ending the conflict started in January and are expected to last until the end of the year. Last month, some factions signed an initial deal to form a unified government, but it was rejected by the GNC, stalling negotiations.

The challenges they face

Analysts argue the politicians involved in the peace process don't have control over the armed forces they claim to represent. "In both Tripoli and Tobruk, armed groups – the real power-brokers – have either criticised or expressed scepticism about [last month's] deal," Fadil Aliriza writes in Foreign Policy. Hardliners in both governments are pressuring leaders to opt for a military solution instead of continuing with negotiations.

As well as having weak support, the proposed deal is fundamentally flawed and risks sparking even more violence, says Aliriza. "This is because a bad deal needs enforcement," he says. "Since it doesn’t bring on board the key players who are holding guns, the only way to make it stick is through force."

Others argue the UN's focus on forming a unity government ignores the causes of the conflict. "We don't have conflict because we have two governments; we have two governments because we have a conflict," says Abdul Rahman Al-Ageli, former adviser to the office of Libya's post-revolutionary prime minister. "What I fear is after negotiations, conflict will erupt again because the grievances haven't been addressed."

The likelihood of success

Some are more optimistic a deal can be reached, hailing the signing of a draft deal as significant progress. "There are [also] strong signs some parts of Libya Dawn, notably in Misrata, are quitting the alliance and are prepared to collaborate with their former enemies," Hadi Fornaji writes in the Libya Herald.

But he argues that Bernardino Leon, the UN's Special Envoy leading the talks, has so far failed to seriously engage with either the HoR's army commander General Khalifa Haftar or Misratan Saleh Badhi, leader of the Samoud Front, the "most hard-core" of the Libya Dawn militia groupings. "The presence of either man at the talks would trigger almost certain boycott from their enemies, yet no peace plan will be worth the paper it is written on without their agreement."

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