Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
The discovery of United States-made Javelin missiles at the base of General Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) last week has further heightened the suspicion that France is secretly backing the group, thus tacitly contributing to the escalation of the conflict that has wrecked the oil rich North African country since 2011 following the ouster and killing of former President Muommar Gadhafi.
Also, the discovery of the missiles has put to test the sincerity of Western powers and their respective allies to resolve the conflict through political settlement instead of military force. Unsettled by the public attention the discovery attracted, France had hurriedly put up a lucid explanation, denying it had handed over the missiles to the warlord. This was after Washington had revealed that they were the anti-tank missiles France bought from the US.
In its explanation, Paris said they were “damaged and out-of-use” weapons “being temporarily stocked in a warehouse ahead of their destruction.”Mindful of the dent the discovery could cause to its image within and outside Libya, the French statement said “these weapons were for the protection of forces undertaking intelligence and counter-terror missions,” adding that “they were not transferred to local forces.”Oddly, the statement stopped short of explaining when and how the weapons got to the base of LNA.
Curiously, until the forces of the United Nations-backed Government for National Accord (GNA) overran the rebel base in Gharyan, 100 kilometres south of Tripoli, France never deemed it necessary to announce its defective anti-tank missiles in Libya were missing. There are many questions France needs to answer.
For how long have the weapons been out-of-use?, where there security measures put in place to protect the warehouse and if yes, what was the mandate given to the security forces or was the warehouse left unguarded?, how could the weapons have got to the base of a local force without the French authorities knowledge?, was any officer(s) apprehended and court marshalled for negligence of duty? And what is the state of the French intelligence?
Agreed that the weapons were defective and there was need to move them from their original location, why the base of a local force that has held the country to ransom whereas the base of the United Nations Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is in Tripoli? The international community and especially the UN have a duty to unravel the mystery surrounding the movement of the anti-tank missiles to a location that raises the fear of the ‘unknown.’Indeed, France deserves sanctions.
Since the international community stepped in to find solution to the conflict, negatives reports have trailed the activities of France in Libya. Precisely, Paris has been accused of doublespeak even as it portrays itself as a peacemaker desirous of seeing the conflict resolved soon.
It is on record that French President Emmanuel Macron was the first leader to invite Hafter and the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and prime minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj to Paris for peace talks. But this laudable gesture is being rubbished by the ‘nocturnal’ activities of Paris as evidenced by the discovery of the anti-tank missiles.
Paris seems to be leaning on one side of the divide, a diplomatic ploy that may have been informed by the thinking that Hafter may eventually capture Tripoli and become the defacto president of the country. It will be recalled that when the French forces bombarded the position of Chadian forces backing the GNA in the south, the reason given was that they were targeting jihadists.
But that attack was a tacit support for the LNA. France ‘morbid’ dance in Libya is informed by the selfish desire to exploit the oil and mineral wealth of Libya at all cost depending on where the pendulum swings.
Absolutely, France has not shown a good example of an unbiased mediator. It should come out clean and set a standard for its involvement in Libya’s peace process. It must not allow unnecessary distractions to interfere with its avowed mission to make Libya become safe and stable. Rather, it must strive to distinguish itself by ensuring that sustainable peace and security is restored in Libya.
Libyans and indeed Africa and the international community are wary of the killings and destruction of property taking place daily in the country. The orgy of bloodshed started following the gruesome death of Gadhafi and has continued without stop because of the inordinate ambition of some of the militia leaders including Hafter.
Of course, Hafter has received much attention because of his pledge to free Libya from Jihadists including the Islamic State. But it must be clear to all that except a government is put in place and backed by the international community, it will be foolhardy for anybody or group to claim that the fight against extremists can be won without a united front.
Hafter has been indicted in some reports that claim his forces also collaborate with militants. The reports have not been denied since they were made public. Jihadists have continued to pour into Libya, apparently taking advantage of the anarchy in the country, a lawless country where crime thrives.
Therefore, the UN must act decisively when the need arises. Convinced that arms flow to the warring factions was contributing to the escalation of the conflict, the world body imposed arms embargo on Libya under resolution 1970 (2011).
But the arms embargo has been defective because of the failure to apply sanctions on countries, individuals and groups violating the order. It is an open secret that allies to the various militia groups have been supplying those arms and ammunition including financial support.
It is hard to conclude that the current approach of the UN to renew the arms embargo annually will yield the desired results. In June 2018, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2420 to strengthen the arms embargo. The resolution extended for another year the authorisation to inspect vessels suspected of violating the arms embargo.
Consequently, it “extended authorisation set out in resolution 2357(2017), requesting the Secretary General to report within 11 months on the text’s implementation.” Again, on June 10, 2019, the Security Council voted unanimously to “renew measures designed to implement” the embargo for another year.
The resolution followed the acceptance of the text sponsored by the United Kingdom days after the Javelin missiles were found in the base of Hafter. Interestingly, the text was adopted after an intense debate during which the United States initially refused to endorse it.
However, the text of the resolution were the same with that of 2018. The addition was the call for ceasefire and return to political talks. Absolutely, rhetoric will not halt arms flow to Libya. Except, the big stick is wielded, those ignoring the arms embargo will continue to ship arms to the country, thereby making it difficult to bring the warring factions to the negotiation table.
It does not matter who is involved. Therefore, the UN must without delay commence the probe of France over the anti-tank missiles found in the base of Hafter. So far, Paris has not made a convincing explanation to allow it go free of sanctions. Investigating the matter with the seriousness it deserves and imposing sanctions on whoever is found culpable will go a longer to putting in check the activities of weapon smugglers. Also, it will restore hope in the ongoing efforts by the UN and the major world powers to resolve the conflict.