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Envoy sees promise in talks to end Libya chaos

October 3rd, 2014
08:17 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

U.N.-brokered talks between rival factions in Libya have a reasonable chance of ending the three-year-long chaos that has gripped Libya since the fall of Muammar Gadhafi, British envoy to Libya Jonathan Powell told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

“Libya is not Syria or Iraq. It hasn't got the division between Shiite and Sunni. It hasn't got the division between Kurds and Arabs. It hasn't even really got political divisions.”

“This fighting mainly has been, as I say, a state of anarchy and fighting about power and about money.”

That state of anarchy has been almost impenetrably complex, with a parade of civilian and militia leaders claiming to be Libya’s salvation.

“The problem in Libya was that NATO played its role in getting rid of Gadhafi, but afterwards the West sort of walked away. They left it alone. They thought it was for the Libyans to sort out.”

“And out of that arose chaos, arose a state of anarchy. No one was in charge. There were thousands of sides.”

(Powell said that the international community was trying to learn lessons from Iraq – he served as Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff in that period – but “in retrospect” made a mistake about not following through in Libya and not helping them get to “a true democracy right away.”)

“But interestingly, what’s happened over the last few months as the fighting has taken place is it's resolved itself into two sides. There are now two sides in Libya rather than thousands of them, which at least makes it easier to understand.”

Those two sides, he said, are – more or less – a group of militias that now control the Western part of the country, including the capital, Tripoli, and the internationally recognized parliament in the east.

While people call the militias that control the West of the country “Islamist,” Powell said that “these are not the sort of people we are bombing in Syria.”

“These are different sort of Islamists. They're basically business men. They're interested in getting to a stable society.”

The “legitimate” parliament, he said, chose to move to Tobruk in the far east of the country “of its own volition,” because “they wanted to meet in an area that was controlled by General Haftar, who's another of the generals in this war.”

“This parliament is legitimate, but it is not inclusive. A large number of the members are not participating. What we're trying to do is bring them together – bring together those who are meeting in Tobruk and those who haven't agreed to go.”

One of those not in attendance at the latest talks is Abdelhakim Belhadj, a former militia leader who has a controversial past, but is at least in public saying the right things about reconciliation.

“We have to unite our efforts, all Libyans, all patriotic Libyans, regardless of their affiliations, regardless of their ideologies,” he told Amanpour earlier this week. “We have to unite around one goal, which is a democratic state.”

“He has not been elected to the parliament, so he was not part of that dialogue,” Powell said. “On the other hand, he does represent a tendency inside Libya and he is a significant player from that point of view.”

“And I think it was very significant that in your interview he was talking about democracy; he was supporting the talks in Ghadames; he was not opposing the attempt to come to a truly legitimate parliament. And I think that's a very good thing.”

Any solution to Libya’s chaos will “need to involve the militia leaders, the sort of people like Mister Belhadj you were talking to, as well as the parliamentarians.”

“There needs to be a parliamentary track, a political track, but also an armed track to get those guys to put their weapons down and come to the table.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Libya
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. dorsano

    dear God what tripe is this "pundit" going to try and infect the public debate with now. "Different sorts of Islamists" ... I guess – "they wear business suits". - looks like all the killing by "different sorts of Islamists" this Eid encouraged her to get more fashion conscious.

    October 4, 2014 at 4:16 am | Reply
  2. Fathi F fadlalla

    What about the brotherhood , they are neither Islamist nor secular , they are chiefly considered in Libya as the source of intrigue , they are the abettors and the doers of most of the anarchy that taken place in the country , and what makes the brotherhood be bold and oppose to all reconciliations evolving in the country is because they are being encouraged by the tacit back up of the usual stupidity of American foreign policy , which is pushing to enabling them to hold the rein of the country . that policy is like nurturing a viper , they will be the first to be stung by .

    October 6, 2014 at 5:58 am | Reply
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