Ole Øyvind Holth

The UN believes the ceasefire is the start of a lasting peace in Libya, but experts doubt.

This week, peace talks in Libya continue. Connoisseurs of the country believe few of the fine words have so far been translated into action.

Today, military leaders of the two warring factions in Libya meet for the last of three days of talks in the city of Ghadames, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country known as the “Pearl of the Desert”.

This is the first time military leaders have come face to face since the war flared up with the year-long offensive against Tripoli, which began in April 2019, according to the website Al Jazeera.

The purpose of the talks is to find mechanisms to ensure the implementation and compliance with the agreement on a “permanent ceasefire throughout Libya“, which was signed in Geneva almost two weeks ago.

The agreement means that both sides will withdraw their soldiers from the front line, and that all mercenaries and foreign fighters must leave the country within three months.

The UN has hailed the agreement as a historic breakthrough, but many Libyans are still skeptical about whether there is a political will to put the demands into action, says Elizabeth Hoff, local head of the World Health Organization in Libya.

The dialogue is of course appreciated, but people we have contact with are very excited about how this will be reflected on the ground, Hoff says by phone from the western capital Tripoli:

So far, people have not seen that this has any direct impact on their daily lives.

Regional battlefield

Libya was thrown into chaos after armed rebels with crucial NATO air support overthrew and assassinated Libyan President Muammar al-Gadaffi in October 2011.

After several years of anarchy, the country was eventually split into two camps. 

Tripoli is home to the UN-backed coalition government (GNA), a rival government based in the eastern city of Tobruk is allied with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his National Army (LNA), which in April 2019 launched a major offensive against Tripoli in an attempt to to unite the country by military force.

THE CONFLICT IN LIBYA:

  • Libya has been marked by anarchy and chaos after armed rebels with air support from NATO overthrew the Gaddafi regime in 2011. The country has two governments, two central banks and a number of militias with varying loyalties.
  • The UN has imposed an arms embargo on Libya, but several countries have sent both mercenaries and weapons. Libya has become a battleground for a war between regional and international forces.
  • In 2019, General Khalifa Haftar and Libya’s national army launched an offensive against Tripoli, which was repulsed with the help of Turkey.
  • On October 23, the parties signed an agreement on a permanent ceasefire for the whole country, which so far seems to hold.

They received support from both the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia and managed in the autumn of 2019 to besiege Tripoli.

The offensive was only stopped after Turkey went in with massive military support to the Tripoli government and sent thousands of Syrian mercenaries to the front line. In the end, Haftar’s forces withdrew to the west in June.

This summer, it seemed for a while that the next battle would be over the strategically crucial city of Sirte, which is the headquarters of the city’s oil export terminals.

This has so far been averted by international pressure on both sides, writes the Pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat.

Do not believe in solution

The agreement on permanent ceasefire also allows for prisoner exchange and has led to a resumption of commercial air traffic over the front line that divides the country.

This has been seen by many as the first step on the road to a political solution to the long-standing conflict.

On November 9, representatives of the two sides will meet in Tunis for peace talks under the auspices of the UN, which aims to reach an agreement on a unity government for the whole country.

The hope is to be able to hold elections as early as 2021, but Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui at the Dutch think tank Clingendael believes the goal of the talks is far too ambitious.

Of the 75 Libyans elected by the UN to lead the political dialogue in Tunisia, several have already chosen to slam the door and not go to the Tunis talks,” he wrote in a text message.

He points out that neither party has begun the process of ending military training or withdrawing mercenaries from the country.

Harchaoui believes that the peace process will probably look further ahead, but fears that the decrees they reach will remain “disappointing and without tangible meaning”, because they can not be implemented on the ground.

In that case, he believes that Libya will be stuck in the gray zone they have been in since June, or worse, slip back into war, “since the peace process lacks both substance and goodwill.

Withdrew the dismissal

Another problem that could hinder a peaceful solution to the conflict is the regional power struggle between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. 

This is the battle that is defining politics in the Middle East at the moment,” Middle East expert Emile Hokayem told The Financial Times last week.

After an unidentified fighter jet bombed a Libyan base that housed Turkish soldiers in July, Turkey’s defense minister warned that it would hold the Emirates accountable. 

The Emirates, for its part, has accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of suffering from colonial delusions and supporting Islamist groups in an attempt to position himself as a leader in the Sunni Muslim world, writes The Financial Times.

The Prime Minister of GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj, announced in September that he would step down by the end of October, and then hoped to hand over power to a new unity government for the whole country. 

On October 31, the day before the deadline he himself had given, he withdrew his resignation to avoid a power vacuum that could derail the peace negotiations, writes Al Jazeera. 

He announced the news from Istanbul, and several critics believe that he only operates as a puppet for Turkish interests.

Jalel Harchaoui believes that Haftar, with the support of the Emirates, is still able to sabotage the peace process if they no longer feel that it serves their regional interests.

Turkey and its supporters, for their part, may also be disappointed, and therefore create problems, because it is not at all a given that their economic interests are protected under the auspices of the UN,” he writes.

And concludes: “All in all, the current absence of firing is hardly sufficient to produce a lasting peace and to announce a new institution that is viable and realizable in reality.“.

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Libya: agreement on the application of the ceasefire agreement

Military delegations from the two rival Libyan camps have agreed on a roadmap to implement the recently signed ceasefire agreement between the two parties, the UN envoy to Libya announced on Tuesday (November 3rd) in the evening.

Discussions began Monday in Ghadames, in southwest Libya, bringing together five military officials from both camps who make up the Joint Military Commission, in the presence of the interim head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya ( Manul), Stephanie Williams.

Libya has been stuck in an inextricable crisis since the fall in 2011 of Gaddafi’s regime, torn between two rival powers: the Government of National Unity (GNA), recognized by the UN and based in Tripoli, and the Marshal’s camp Khalifa Haftar, strongman from the East supported by part of the elected Parliament and its president, Aguila Saleh. 

The Ghadames talks come after meetings in Geneva that led to the signing, on 23 October under the aegis of the UN, of a permanent ceasefire agreement with ” immediate effect “.

On Tuesday evening, Stephanie Williams announced that the two sides had agreed on the ” establishment of a military subcommittee to oversee the withdrawal of military forces to their respective bases and the departure of foreign forces from the front lines. “.

The Commission also decided to “ meet in Sirte (north) as soon as possible ” and to establish its headquarters there, Ms. Williams said. The front line has been located around this city since mid-June. 

The first meeting responsible for ” reuniting the Guards of the oil installations ” will be held on November 16 at the Brega terminal, while air links will be restored “ immediately.»

With Sebha and Ghadames in the south. The Commission urged the Security Council to ” quickly adopt a binding resolution to implement the Geneva ceasefire agreement “, the UN envoy said.

” The absence of gunfire is hardly enough to produce a solid peace ,” Jalel Harchaoui, researcher at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, told AFP.

Because despite a UN process that seems ” very encouraging (…) there is an undeniable lack of political substance and authenticity which seems all the same worrying “, decrypts the researcher. 

Tuesday evening, the UN envoy called on the Libyan political class to be “ up to the responsibility ”. ” We remind all those who get in the way of the process that they will expose themselves to sanctions, ” for his part warned Tuesday evening, the American ambassador to Libya Richard Norland.

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