UN’s Libya representative urges EU countries to reopen Tripoli embassies

Martin Kobler acknowledged the security risks but said it would be an important gesture to the local people. [MONUSCO/ Flickr]

The UN’s representative in Libya, Martin Kobler, has revealed that the organisation intends to return to Tripoli “very soon” and urged European countries to do the same and reopen their embassies. EURACTIV Spain reports.

Martin Kobler is a German diplomat who was appointed head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya in 2015. He previously fulfilled a similar role in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kobler spoke to EFE’s Javier Martin.

During an interview with EFE in Tunisia, Kobler said that returning to the war-torn country would be a significant gesture towards a population that continues to suffer greatly, as well as contributing to the peace and reconstruction process.

“We should acknowledge that the Italian, Turkish and some other embassies never closed, so I encourage the entire world to come back to Tripoli, because it will be an important signal to people that you still care about them,” the German diplomat said.

“We also have plans to return, we’ve rented buildings are making them ready. We’ll be back in Tripoli very soon,” he added.

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Kobler admitted that security problems remain throughout the country, particularly in the capital, where there is no unified police authority and where the law is kept by each district’s own militia.

He also acknowledged that there are serious problems relating to supply, particularly in terms of energy (in some areas, power cuts can last 18 hours), running water and other basic needs. But he insisted that the situation has drastically improved over the last few months.

“I don’t see it as being dramatic. I was in Tripoli and I walked the streets, spoke to people, one person told me that they didn’t have electricity for three hours; for others it is eight. So it is definitely a problem, but there is no total blackout in Tripoli,” he added.

Kobler warned that it would not be possible to help rebuild and rehabilitate Libya at arms length, insisting that there will have to be a physical presence.

“The European Union wants to launch some important projects, including the stabilistation and reconstruction of Benghazi, but that requires people on the ground in the country. One thing is having €100 million in a fund. But what do we do with that money?”

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“People are going to have to be on site so that this money can be used to reconstruct Benghazi’s schools but I don’t see this happening, because of the security situation,” he warned.

That is why he has called on the EU to reopen its embassies and to reestablish a presence.

“I understand that it is difficult and that it needs the security situation to improve, but the more everyone gives, the more confident I am that we will gradually bring an end to the violence,” Kobler said.

In order to progress, the diplomat said that Libya would have to work under the umbrella of the UN in order to set up one unified army, with a clear chain of command and authority over the entire country.

He claimed that “if the authority is there, all the problems can be solved. Like immigration, political concerns and basic services.”

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But it’s a decision that Libya is going to have to make itself, although it will need the support of its neighbours and an EU willing to play a constructive, active role.

“Before, we had a trio in Cairo made up of the Arab League, the African Union and the United Nations. I suggested including the Europeans in order to make it a quartet and so that regional organisations could speak with one voice,” he explained.

Kobler warned that “if the international community is divided, then nothing is going to work in Libya… I always say that 70% of solutions come from regional involvement, international involvement, making contacts.”

He suggested that current policies have to be replaced with a more constructive and positive approach, especially when it comes to irregular immigration.

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“I know all about the EU’s role and I’ve seen Sofia (the EU’s Mediterranean operation) in action, as well as how they are training the Libyan coastguard, because there are a lot of worries about immigration. It’s a very important mission,” he said.

“But we can’t just focus on repressive measures, we have to get to the roots of immigration, particularly the when it comes to improving the living conditions in Libya’s camps,” he warned.

On the same subject, Kobler highlighted that “it isn’t just Europe that is the victim of immigration. Libya is also a victim, as is Africa itself.”

The UN official also pointed out that “Libya is no Mediterranean island, it is a country with enormous resources and long borders. All of the countries in the south can only be protected through international cooperation and exchanging regional information.”