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Libya’s rival forces agree to ceasefire

Participants of the fourth round of the 5 + 5 Libyan Joint Military Commission shake hands after signing an agreement for a complete and permanent ceasefire in Libya, at United Nation's Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 23 October 2020. Credit: EPA / Violaine Martin / UN

Libya’s rival factions have agreed to a permanent ceasefire in all areas of the country, signalling what the United Nations called an “important turning point towards peace and stability” in the country.

The agreement was signed today by delegates from Libya’s warring sides after a fourth round of UN-sponsored talks, held in Geneva this week.

Stephanie Williams, acting head of the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said the two sides have agreed to an immediate countrywide ceasefire and the departure of all foreign fighters within three months.

“Today is a good day for the Libyan people”, said Williams, praising the Libyan delegations and saying the agreement “demonstrated their patriotism, love of their country, and commitment in coming together to reach an agreement that can help secure a better and more peaceful future for all of the Libyan people.”

“You have met for the sake of Libya, for your people in order to take concrete steps to put an end to their suffering,” she said at the signing ceremony. “Nobody can love Libya as much as you do.”

The success of the ceasefire will be determined over the coming weeks, relying on the adherence of external forces and other factors on the ground. Speaking at the press conference following the ceremony, Williams said: “It is time to listen to the Libyans themselves. Libya is for Libyans. They want to come together to rebuild their country. It is incumbent on the international community to support them in this effort.”

Why is this important? Libya has been in chaos ever since the Arab spring movement and the ousting of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi by Nato-backed forces in 2011.

Efforts to build a democratic state failed, and in 2014 a new civil war erupted between rival governments: the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, and an administration in the east affiliated with military order Khalifa Haftar.

There has also been a proliferation of armed groups and extremists such as Islamic State. The deteriorating socioeconomic situation, worsened by unpredictable conflicts and the pressures of Covid-19, means achieving peace is increasingly urgent. More than 200,000 people are internally displaced and 1.3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

In August, the two sides separately announced they would cease hostilities , raising hopes that a resolution would be reached, and the GNA called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in March.

Another round of peace talks followed, taking place over three days in Montreux, sponsored by UNSMIL and organised by the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD).

Both sides agreed to submit recommendations to the Libyan Political Dialogue - including the holding of elections - which were discussed in this week’s talks.

The two sides also reached a preliminary agreement last month to exchange prisoners and open up air and land transit across the country's territory. There was also a resumption of oil production after month of disruption caused by a blockade by Haftar-allied tribes.

What has been agreed? Speaking at a press conference following the signing of the agreement, Williams stated that delegates have agreed to the withdrawal of all military units and armed groups from the front lines.

“This shall be accompanied by the departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from all Libyan territories land, air and sea within a maximum period of three months,” said Williams, adding that the ceasefire “does not apply to UN designated terrorist groups.”

They also agreed to adhere to a number of measures announced earlier in the week, including:

  • Opening land and air routes across the country with parties agreeing to initiate joint security arrangements. Accessible roads will allow the delivery of fuel and basic goods to civilians.

  • End the use of “inflammatory and escalatory media rhetoric” and to “halt the use of hate speech” by holding the channels and social media platforms that have been “promoting hate speech and inciting violence” to account, while protecting freedom of expression.

  • Support the exchange of detainees and the efforts that are already underway.

  • Protect and increase oil production by reconstructing the Petroleum Facilities Guard. El Sharara oilfield, the country’s biggest, resumed operations on 11 October and is already operating at over 50 per cent.

What's next? Hopes are high that the path to peace has finally been paved but, in Williams' own words, “there is a lot of work to do going forward.”

Williams said the aim now was to reintegrate the armed forces into a joint body, which will implement the ceasefire agreement and withdrawal of troops, monitored by UNSMIL, as well as categorise and identify all armed units.

Next month, the delegates will reconvene in Tunisia for political discussions. Speaking in an earlier press conference on Tuesday, Williams said that the “ultimate objective” of the political process will be to hold national elections, saying there was an “overwhelming call to address the crisis of legitimacy in Libya.”

She reiterated this today: “Libyans want elections. Elections are the single most important means through which they can re-assert their sovereignty and destiny. Free, fair, democratic elections where they are choosing their representatives, whether the parliament or for the presidency. They would like to end the long transitional period that the country has suffered from. ”