Both sides in Libya con­flict agree to cease­fire to end 9 months of fight­ing

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Tripoli, Libya - Both sides in Libya’s con­flict agreed to a cease­fire from Sun­day to end nine months of fight­ing fol­low­ing weeks of in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy and calls for a truce by power­bro­kers Rus­sia and Turkey.

The oil-rich North African coun­try has been wracked by bloody tur­moil since a NATObacked upris­ing killed Moam­mar Gad­hafi in 2011, with mul­ti­ple for­eign pow­ers now in­volved.

Since April last year, the UN­recog­nised Gov­ern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord (GNA) in Tripoli has been un­der at­tack from forces loyal to east­ern-based strong­man Khal­ifa Haf­tar, which days ago cap­tured the strate­gic coastal city of Sirte.

Late on Satur­day, Haf­tar’s forces an­nounced a cease­fire start­ing at mid­night (Sun­day 00:00 lo­cal time, Satur­day 2200 GMT) in line with a joint call by Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and his Rus­sian coun­ter­part Vladimir Putin.

Early on Sun­day the head of the GNA, Fayez al Sar­raj, also an­nounced his ac­cep­tance of the cease­fire, say­ing it had taken ef­fect at the start of Sun­day.

The UN mis­sion in Libya wel­comed the an­nounce­ments and called on all par­ties ‘to re­spect the cease­fire’ and to sup­port ef­forts to launch an in­ter-Libyan di­a­logue.

Like­wise, the Arab League called on Libya’s fac­tions to ‘com­mit to stop the fight­ing, work on al­le­vi­at­ing all forms of es­ca­la­tions and en­gage in good faith aimed at reach­ing per­ma­nent ar­range­ments for a cease­fire’.

Since the start of the of­fen­sive against Tripoli, more than 280 civil­ians have been killed, 2,000 fight­ers have died and 146,000

Libyans have been dis­placed, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

Di­plo­matic of­fen­sive

Sar­raj stressed the GNA’s ‘le­git­i­mate right ... to re­spond to any at­tack or ag­gres­sion’ that may come from the other side, while Haf­tar’s forces warned of a ‘se­vere’ re­sponse to any vi­o­la­tion by the ‘op­pos­ing camp’.

Ar­tillery fire could be heard shortly af­ter mid­night in the cap­i­tal, be­fore quiet set­tled over the south­ern Tripoli sub­urb where pro-GNA forces have been re­sist­ing Haf­tar’s of­fen­sive.

No cease­fire mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism has been an­nounced, but the GNA leader called for both sides to ‘pre­pare cease­fire mea­sures un­der the aegis of the UN’, with­out pro­vid­ing fur­ther de­tails.

The cease­fire comes af­ter a di­plo­matic of­fen­sive, led by Ankara and Moscow, which have es­tab­lished them­selves as key play­ers in Libya, sup­port­ing op­pos­ing sides.

Ankara de­ployed mil­i­tary sup­port to the GNA in Jan­uary. Rus­sia has been ac­cused of back­ing pro-Haf­tar forces, which are also sup­ported by the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia and Egypt, all re­gional ri­vals of Turkey.

Er­do­gan and Putin called for a truce at a meet­ing on Wed­nes­day in Is­tan­bul, and Turkey on

Satur­day asked Rus­sia to con­vince Haf­tar, who had ini­tially vowed to fight on, to re­spect it.

Fears of a ‘sec­ond Syria’

Europe and North Africa have also launched a di­plo­matic of­fen­sive to try to pre­vent Libya, with the in­creased in­volve­ment of in­ter­na­tional play­ers in its con­flict, from turn­ing into a ‘sec­ond Syria’.

Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, also in­clud­ing for­mer colo­nial power Italy, are con­cerned that militants and mi­grant smug­glers, al­ready highly ac­tive in Libya, will take fur­ther ad­van­tage of the chaos.

The US Em­bassy in Libya, in a state­ment on Satur­day, voiced its ‘se­ri­ous con­cern about toxic for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in the con­flict’. It said ‘Rus­sian mer­ce­nar­ies’ had backed Haf­tar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces while ‘Turk­ish-sup­ported Syr­ian fight­ers’ had backed the GNA, a de­vel­op­ment that had ‘sig­nif­i­cantly de­graded se­cu­rity, to the detri­ment of all Libyans’.

It con­tin­ued, ‘All re­spon­si­ble Libyan par­ties should end this dan­ger­ous es­ca­la­tion and re­ject the de­struc­tive in­volve­ment by for­eign forces’.

On Satur­day Putin and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel met in Moscow and called for in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to ad­dress the cri­sis in Libya.

Merkel said she hoped ‘the Turk­ish-Rus­sian ef­forts will be suc­cess­ful’. call­ing a cease­fire a first step in a peace process.

Putin and Merkel both backed a Libya peace con­fer­ence in Ber­lin be­ing or­gan­ised by UN spe­cial en­voy to Libya, Ghas­san Salame, which could be held in the com­ing weeks.

(AFP)

Italy’s Prime Min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte (right) shakes hands with Libya’s mil­i­tary strong­man Khal­ifa Haf­tar in Rome on Wed­nes­day

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