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International contact group faces complexities of ending Libya crisis

The international contact group on Libya, set up with the aim of providing leadership and an overall political direction to the international effort, met in the Qatari capital Doha to discuss the crisis.

Rebel soldiers secure their positions

Once the war is over, Libya will face complex leadership issues

The group, created during an international conference on Libya in London on March 29, includes a number of European powers, the United States, allies from the Middle East including the Arab League and a number of international organizations. It was hoped that the African Union (AU) would join the talks in Doha after being absent from the London conference.

But as conditions on the ground in Libya continue to deteriorate and the conflict between forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and anti-regime rebels becomes increasingly intractable, the contact group and the wider international community is faced with an increasingly complex situation while trying to agree on an immediate solution to the crisis and a plan for Libya's post-war future.

Before any future leadership questions can be addressed, an end to the conflict - which has in recent weeks developed into a full scale civil war - must be found.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to present a "roadmap" for a negotiated end to the conflict at the Doha meeting which will call for Gadhafi's forces to withdraw from besieged rebel cities, and for the Libyan leader to agree to the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors.

Erdogan, whose country is one of only a few which have enjoyed good relations with Libya, said that the plan should also include an agreement on a "comprehensive democratic transformation process that takes into account the legitimate interests of Libyan people" which should begin immediately.

South African President Jacob Zuma, Congo's President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Mauritania President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and African-Union Commissioner John Bing stand outside a tent in Tripoli

Jacob Zuma (far left), along with fellow African Union leaders, presented Gadhafi with their peace plan

Meanwhile, over the weekend, South African President Jacob Zuma presented Gadhafi with an AU peace plan that similarly called for a ceasefire and the Libyan leader's cooperation in delivering humanitarian aid.

However, there was no mention in either peace plan of Gadhafi agreeing to step down; a major stumbling block to any peace deal with the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) which says it will reject any agreement that leaves the Libyan leader in power.

Gadhafi 'must go'

The TNC and its supporters are totally committed to Gadhafi standing down or being removed, something the Libyan leader has refused to contemplate. The rebels fear revenge should Libya return to an uneasy peace with Gadhafi's regime still in control.

A rebel fighter holds a rocket propelled grenade launcher

Rebels won't accept any deal which leaves Gadhafi in power

"The likelihood that Gadhafi's rule will be accepted once again in rebel-held areas of Libya is next to nothing," Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East and North Africa expert and the London School of Economics told Deutsche Welle.

"Waging all-out war against its own population means there is virtually no chance that a Gadhafi-led government in Tripoli will be acceptable to its many opponents. The regime's past record of taking terrible retribution against dissenters means the rebels will be most unlikely to take any Gadhafi actions or words at face value."

The question of who leads Libya should the conflict be resolved is one which is causing existing divisions within the international community to widen to the extent that it could threaten coalition efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

UN resolution 1973 which created the no-fly zone over Libya and authorized air strikes to protect civilians did not include any permission to extend military action to remove Gadhafi from power.

Off the fence

However, with the civil war now locked in a stalemate, with battles moving back and forth in a small area along the coast, and neither side able to permanently take or hold territory, some nations are openly promoting regime change in an effort to solve the impasse and ease the transition to peace.

"It will be very difficult to present the coalition mission as any form of success if Gadhafi remains in power," Ulrichsen said. "It is significant that the Arab League and other regional bodies such as the Gulf Cooperation Council have called for a post-Gadhafi Libya, and taken measures to recognize the Interim Transitional National Council."

Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad al Thani is among those who have urged Gadhafi to step down to halt the bloodshed and seemingly issued an ultimatum recently, suggesting that the leader may be running out of time to leave of his own accord.

France has also made it clear in recent days that it is now only a question of how Gadhafi's regime meets its downfall rather than whether he can survive in power.

Delegates attending the London Conference on Libya

With some contact group members in favor of removing Gadhafi, a clearer objective could take shape

There is, therefore, a growing feeling that the only viable solution to both the conflict and the future leadership of Libya comes from the removal of Gadhafi. With many supporters of such an outcome making up the contact group on Libya, analysts believe its ultimate aim will be the installation of a new transitional government.

"Since the Qatari Prime Minister, France and others have urged Gadhafi to step down, the Contact Group may now appear part of the broader effort to tighten the net on Gadhafi by combining diplomatic mediation, political and economic isolation with the ongoing military intervention on behalf of the anti-Gadhafi forces in Libya," Ulrichsen said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe admitted this week, however, that there were already cracks in the coalition, especially along EU lines, over whether and how Gadhafi should stand down, with some European states favoring his retention albeit under harsh international sanctions.

Uncertain future

Should the fighting be stopped and Gadhafi remain in power, analysts believe that the West would have to exclude the Libyan leader from participating in the international community while the problems that created the rebellion in the first place would endure for those who fought for it.

"It will be impossible to return to the modus operandi of the last eight years - effectively, engagement in return for steps toward rehabilitation - because that strategy has been discredited," Alia Brahimi, a Middle East expert and author, told Deutsche Welle.

"Contact would be minimal and cooperation withdrawn," Sir Richard Dalton, a Middle East and security expert at Chatham House, told Deutsche Welle. "The economic hardship from the run-down in economic capacity and purchasing power would exacerbate an already high risk of renewal of rebellion."

"Remember, the power of the feud and of revenge in Libyan society will be acute after such bloody suppression," he added.

Geographical division

One mooted compromise which could paper over these coalition cracks focuses on the geographical division of Libya. The country has been sub-divided into three regions in the past with Tripoli and Benghazi acting as the regional centres for the historical territories of Tripolitania in the north-west and Cyrenaica in the east, with Fezzan being the third in the south-west.

Map of Libya with Tripoli highlighted

Gadhafi would want to avoid being cut off in Tripoli

However the current lines of separation between regime supporters and rebels do not follow these contours exactly, and the greater intermixing of factions means it would be harder to achieve a clean separation, although the LSE's Kristian Ulrichsen said that the area formerly corresponding to Cyrenaica and centered around Benghazi could certainly become a functioning state or protectorate in its own right.

But given that this would hand the TNC control of the majority of Libya's oilfields, experts believe it is just another proposition that Moammar Gadhafi is likely to reject out of hand.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge

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