World powers will push for sanctions against anyone who disrupts Libya’s electoral process and political transition, they agreed at a conference on Friday in Paris.
The meeting, which included the leaders of France, Libya, Germany, Italy and Egypt, as well as the U.S. vice president, was to cement backing for the planned vote on Dec. 24 and efforts to remove foreign forces.
The elections are envisaged as a key moment in a UN-backed peace process to end a decade of violent chaos that has drawn in regional powers and undermined Mediterranean stability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
The votes for a new president and parliament are still in doubt with six weeks to go amid disputes between rival eastern and western Libyan factions and political bodies over the rules underpinning the electoral schedule and who can run.
The wrangling threatens to unravel the wider peace process, which also includes efforts to unify long-divided state institutions and to pull out foreign mercenaries who remain entrenched along frontlines despite a ceasefire.
Powers in Paris decided “that individuals or entities, inside or outside of Libya, who might attempt to obstruct, undermine, manipulate or falsify the electoral process and the political transition” could face sanctions.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a video message to the conference warned that “any party that deliberately undermines or sabotages peace must be held accountable.”
The UN Security Council has previously agreed sanctions against Libyan political figures for their role in the conflict.
However Russia has only sent lower-level representatives to Paris, raising questions over its backing of positions agreed there.
Amid disputes over the polling date, the powers said they backed a vote “starting on Dec. 24” with the results of the presidential and parliamentary elections to be announced simultaneously. The UN roadmap had called for both votes to be held on Dec. 24.
The foreign powers want an “inclusive” election - a stance that would likely allow all potential candidates including divisive figures seen as unacceptable in large swathes of Libya as well as serving officials to run.
A French presidential official told reporters at a briefing some actors were ready to seize on any ambiguities to advance their own interests.
“They are obviously waiting to ambush and try to derail the electoral process,” the official said.
Paris initially aiming to have the Turkish and Russian heads of state attending, but Ankara has joined Moscow in sending lower level representatives, perhaps demonstrating the complications with removing foreign forces.
Ankara voiced reservations over language in the final statement regarding the departure of foreign forces. It has long stressed a difference between the presence of its troops in Libya that were invited by a UN-recognized government and those imported by other factions.
Mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group are entrenched alongside the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which was supported in the war by Moscow, along with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
The former Tripoli government had support from Turkish regular forces in Libya as advisers, and from allied Syrian fighters, the Turkish government has said.
Diplomats have said Turkey was unlikely to act before there were departures from the east.
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