Libya cease-fire un­rav­els with break­down in talks

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY SUDARSAN RAGHA­VAN sudarsan.ragha­[email protected]­post.com Ka­reem Fahim in Is­tan­bul and Isabelle Khur­shudyan in Moscow con­trib­uted to this re­port.

CAIRO — A pro­vi­sional cease-fire reached two days ago be­tween Libya’s war­ring fac­tions ap­peared to un­ravel on Tues­day, as east­ern com­man­der Khal­ifa Hifter abruptly left Moscow with­out sign­ing the agree­ment.

In Libya’s cap­i­tal, Tripoli, re­ports emerged of clashes erupt­ing in sev­eral neigh­bor­hoods, po­ten­tially com­pli­cat­ing me­di­a­tion ef­forts to achieve a last­ing peace.

The North African oil pro­ducer has been gripped by con­flict since the 2011 ouster and death of long­time ruler Moam­mar Gaddafi. In April, Hifter’s forces launched a sur­prise of­fen­sive in an ef­fort to top­ple the U.n.-installed Govern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord in Tripoli.

On Mon­day, Libyan Prime Min­is­ter Fayez Ser­raj signed the cease-fire agree­ment drafted by Rus­sia and Turkey. But Hifter, who is aligned with a ri­val govern­ment in east­ern Libya, had asked for un­til Tues­day morn­ing to make his de­ci­sion, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sia’s state-op­er­ated Tass news agency. By early Tues­day, how­ever, re­ports emerged that Hifter had left Moscow with­out sign­ing the document.

The col­lapse of the cease-fire ef­fort is a ma­jor blow to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and their as­pi­ra­tions of be­com­ing the main power bro­kers in Libya. For Putin, who sup­ports Hifter, and Er­do­gan, who backs the GNA, a ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties in Libya would deepen their coun­tries’ in­flu­ence in North Africa and across the Mid­dle East. Both Moscow and Ankara also stand to gain from oil and con­struc­tion con­tracts in Libya, worth bil­lions of dol­lars.

On Tues­day, a frus­trated Er­do­gan did not mince his words. Speak­ing to mem­bers of his party in Ankara, he said both Turkey and the Tripoli govern­ment had shown a “con­struc­tive at­ti­tude” in the peace ini­tia­tive.

“We stood be­hind our prom­ise, but putschist Hifter left the ta­ble,” Er­do­gan said. “Th­ese conditions show his real face. We were not at all sur­prised that he re­jected the cease-fire.”

Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter, Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, told reporters in Ankara that “if Hifter con­tin­ues like this, then there will be no point for the Ber­lin process,” re­fer­ring to a peace sum­mit sched­uled for Sun­day in the Ger­man city to which both sides in the Libyan con­flict have been in­vited.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials, how­ever, were re­luc­tant to de­clare the me­di­a­tion a fail­ure. “We will con­tinue our ef­forts on this track, be­cause no de­fin­i­tive re­sult has been achieved so far,” For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov told reporters dur­ing a visit to Sri Lanka.

Alexei Chepa, a Rus­sian sen­a­tor and deputy chair­man of the State Duma For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, down­played Hifter’s re­fusal to sign the agree­ment.

“This is not a fail­ure; it does not mean that the talks have been un­suc­cess­ful,” Chepa told the Rus­sian news agency In­ter­fax. “The fact that the sides have held ne­go­ti­a­tions is im­por­tant, con­sid­er­ing that di­a­logue is the only way to de­cide any­thing and to achieve a re­sult.” Fur­ther talks be­tween the two sides are pos­si­ble, he added.

It was un­clear why Hifter de­clined to sign the pact. One rea­son may be that it did not in­clude a dead­line for the dis­band­ing of the dis­parate mili­tias aligned with the GNA, ac­cord­ing to a Libyan mil­i­tary of­fi­cial cited by In­ter­fax. Hifter has claimed that his Tripoli of­fen­sive is partly in­tended to “cleanse” the cap­i­tal of those mili­tias, which he de­scribes as ter­ror­ist and crim­i­nal groups.

Hifter is also backed by pow­er­ful re­gional play­ers, es­pe­cially the United Arab Emi­rates, Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia, which view Libya as sig­nif­i­cant to their own strate­gic and eco­nomic in­ter­ests.

“Com­pet­ing the­o­ries why Haf­tar didn’t sign,” tweeted Wol­fram Lacher, a Libya an­a­lyst at the Ger­man In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional and Se­cu­rity Af­fairs, us­ing an al­ter­nate spell­ing of Hifter. “For some, he has too many masters to an­swer to. For oth­ers, he re­fuses to do what his masters want. The an­swer may be both: hav­ing mul­ti­ple back­ers al­lows Haf­tar to play them against each other.”

Nev­er­the­less, Euro­pean and United Na­tions of­fi­cials ex­pressed hope Tues­day that the cease-fire agree­ment could be sal­vaged. As of late Tues­day, the Ber­lin sum­mit was still sched­uled to be held next week.

The U.N. mis­sion in Libya on Tues­day urged both sides to ad­here to the cease-fire and give the diplo­matic ef­forts a chance “for the sake of the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion in Tripoli, the hun­dreds of thou­sands who fled their homes and the 116,000 chil­dren who are un­able to go to their classes.”

“We stood be­hind our prom­ise, but putschist [Khal­ifa] Hifter left the ta­ble. Th­ese conditions show his real face.” Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, on Hifter leav­ing the me­di­a­tion

PAVEL GOLOVKIN/POOL/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Turk­ish and Rus­sian of­fi­cials in Moscow ne­go­ti­ate a cease-fire be­tween war­ring fac­tions in Libya on Mon­day. But Khal­ifa Hifter, a com­man­der in east­ern Libya, left Moscow with­out sign­ing the pact.

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