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UN Security Council extends mission in Libya but U.S. outraged over failure to reach agreement to have physical presence in Libya and relocate head of mission from Geneva to Tripoli

The north African country on the brink again as election nears

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted on Thursday to extend once again the UN mission in Libya until the end of January 2022, but the Council failed to agree that the head of UN mission should be relocated from Geneva in Switzerland to Tripoli in Libya to engage with the people on the ground ahead of a planned December 24 election, triggering a rebuke from the United States.

“Today’s vote is an unfortunate outcome, especially for the Libyan people. It is also an unfortunate outcome for the Security Council,” Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, United States Senior Advisor for Special Political Affairs, said in remarks after the vote. “Today we have failed to implement the recommendations from the Secretary-General’s Independent Strategic Review at a crucial time. The Independent Strategic Review was clear – that the Head of Mission should be relocated to Tripoli, in order to increase engagement with Libyan actors. Considering the critical importance of UN support for December national elections, the recommendation from the review should be implemented now, not months down the road.”

The United States and the United Kingdom, two permanent members of the Security Council, said they were unhappy that the Council failed to reach an agreement to establish a physical presence in Libya to speed up negotiations over the withdrawal of foreign forces, ahead of Libya’s election scheduled for December 24.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in August this year recommended that the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) appoint a special representative based in Tripoli to engage better with various actors on the ground rather than by phone from Geneva. At the moment, the UN top official on Libya is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

UNSMIL was established in accordance with Security Council resolution 2009 on September 16, 2011, following the revolution in Libya that overthrew dictator Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. Gaddafi was assassinated on October 20, 2011, in Sirte, Libya.

The US, the UK and France support a proposal to overhaul United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) but Russia, another permanent member of the Council has rejected it, saying at the Thursday’s meeting that any relocation of the mission to Libya should wait until the election is over.

The United Kingdom described as “regrettable” the failure of the Council to adopt the British draft resolution to transfer UNSMIL top official from Geneva to Tripoli.

The December 24 election will be the first vote in Libya since a ceasefire was brokered in 2020 between warring factions – the Libyan National Army and the Government of National Accord.

The terms of the ceasefire have not been implemented because both sides and their international backers have been unable to agree on how the withdrawal of foreign forces should take place.

In his remarks on Thursday, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the United States Senior Advisor for Special Political Affairs said the recommendations on UNSMIL’s leadership structure reflected the Libyan conviction that locating the Head of Mission in Libya is essential to the mission.

“This was based, in part, on Libyans who shared their belief that the Special Envoy’s location in Geneva was a hindrance to the Envoy’s ability to engage with Libyan actors in a meaningful and regular manner,” he said.

DeLaurentis added, “It is incumbent upon us to act with the urgency that the Libyan people deserve. Failure to restructure UNSMIL now only serves to undermine our collective efforts to stabilize Libya. We must ask ourselves today, how can we move forward in a manner that places the UN and the people of Libya in a position to build on previous diplomatic achievements?

“This outcome in the Council will not deter the United States from its firm support for the Libyan people as they move forward with national elections on December 24. Critical efforts are ongoing to develop the constitutional and legal framework for those elections. The United States is fully supportive of these Libyan preparations. It is vital that UN Member States undertake all possible efforts to advance a political solution to the conflict in Libya, including through supporting free and fair elections on December 24, and withdrawing all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libyan territory without delay.

“After 10 years of turmoil, the Libyan people are still striving for democracy and stability. We call on all members of this Council to work together expeditiously over the next few months to adopt a mandate that will offer the best approach to resolve stalemates and encourage political progress. The people of Libya deserve nothing less.”

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