The initial euphoria is a distant memory as little have changed since the fall of Moammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship. A 2015 UN-backed deal to set up the unity government in Tripoli was meant to end the turmoil but the gap between Libya’s east and west is yet to be bridged.
Libya has remained riven by divisions between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and a rival administration in the east, backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, head of self-imposed Libyan National Army (LNA).
The internationally recognized GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, has failed to assert its authority across the oil-rich country, which is also grappling with deadly attacks and a migration crisis.
But the two contenders are not the only players in the Libyan chaos. There are various clans that have armed groups in their areas of influence.
Neglected by rival authorities in Tripoli and the country’s east, Libya’s southern desert has increasingly become a hideout for foreign rebel groups that stand accused of stoking growing insecurity.
The groups benefit from the support of tribal communities, criss-crossing a landscape where dunes are sometimes the only identifying features.
The Tubu people are among those that straddle Libya and Chad. Some of them are involved in smuggling and illegal migration, according to experts.
Terrorist groups such as IS still carry out strikes despite the campaign by Haftar’s LNA forces.
An attack on October 29 on the desert town of Al-Fuqaha in the south of the Jufra district in central Libya left three civilians and a policeman dead.
IS took advantage of the chaos that reigned in Libya after the 2011 NATO-backed ouster of Moammar Kadhafi to establish footholds in several parts of the country.
In April this year, the Tripoli-based Government launched a campaign to crackdown on IS fighters operating in areas of western Libya under its control.
Many IS members have since retreated to desert areas where they are attempting to regroup.
A September 10 suicide attack later claimed by IS on Libya’s National Oil Company headquarters in the heart of Tripoli left two dead and 10 others wounded.
Four months earlier, IS claimed an attack on Libya’s electoral commission headquarters in Tripoli that killed 14 people.
President Emmanuel Macron of France tried to bring the conflicting parties closer and hosted two meetings in this vein. The latest, held in May, brought together several Libyan stakeholders, among whom Haftar and GNA head Faiez Serraj who agreed to hold elections on December 10.
Yet, the UN special envoy to Libya said late last September that it would be hard for the country to hold its much expected elections on December 10 as agreed by various stakeholders at the Paris meeting.
“There is still a lot to do. It may not be possible to respect the date of December 10,” Ghassan Salame had said in an interview with AFP, adding he expects the polls to be held early next year. “Three or four month” time is realistic, he had noted.
Now, Italy, which is trying to outpace France’s efforts to play a role in restoring peace and stability in the North African country, is organizing an international conference on Libya in Palermo November 12-13.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is planning to use the international conference to assert Italy’s role in Libya as a former colonial power.
In his efforts to bring together all rival Libyan parties to attend the Palermo conference, he held talks in Rome Friday with Head of GNA Fayez al-Sarraj, and with the UN special envoy Ghassan Salamé.
On Monday he conferred with Khalifa Haftar, arrived in Rome Sunday.
Conte had previously said that the Conference is aimed at reasserting the international community’s strong support for the country’s UN-led political process.
Will this other international conference on Libya come out with a peace plan that will end the years of political turmoil? Hopefully!