Libya Cease-Fire Promises to Unlock Peace Talks, UN Envoy Says
The cease-fire announced by Libyan rivals may finally unlock stalled talks to end a civil war which had shut oil fields and drawn in foreign militaries, according to the United Nations envoy leading peace efforts.
Reciprocal calls on Friday to stop the fighting and resume oil production were welcomed by nations backing opposing sides in the conflict but there’s still work to be done, Stephanie Williams said in an interview.
That includes agreements on monitoring the truce, a demilitarized zone in the contested city of Sirte, and security arrangements in the eastern oil crescent, where much of Libya’s oil terminals and ports are controlled by military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Previous attempts to build a sustained push for a diplomatic solution to Libya’s turmoil have foundered, prolonging insecurity which in the past allowed Islamic militants and groups trafficking poor Africans toward Europe to thrive.
The latest war in the North African country started in April 2019 when Haftar’s forces, supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russian mercenaries, marched on Tripoli to unseat the internationally recognized Government of National Accord. A Turkish military intervention this year helped force his troops to withdraw to the central city of Sirte, the gateway to oil fields and ports that have been shuttered since January at a cost of about $8 billion in lost revenues.
“It’s an important moment that should not be lost,” Williams said. “I think this is the first time in quite a long time that we’ve seen readiness by two key leaders to really forge what I would say is a made-in-Libya solution,” she added, referring to Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the rival head of the eastern-based parliament Aguileh Saleh.
“They were able to come to a consensus over some fundamental issues that start to break the deadlock and pave the way for the resumption of a serious inclusive political process,” Williams said.
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Haftar, who has an uneasy alliance with Saleh, had previously offered a cease-fire in June and remains committed to it, his spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said on Sunday. But in a sign of the lack of trust mediators will have to overcome, al-Mismari cast doubt on whether the Turkish-backed government really intended to call off an attack on Sirte.
There has been no fighting since June, and senior officials in the Tripoli-based administration and Western diplomats told Bloomberg that an assault on Sirte had been called off after Haftar amassed forces in the city — including Russian-supplied jets and mercenaries — while Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi threatened a military intervention if it were attacked.
Williams said last week’s calls showed there was a constituency that wanted peace in a country riven by conflict since a 2011 NATO-backed revolt overthrew leader Moammar al-Qaddafi. International reactions have been “quite positive, including President Sisi’s early and very positive embrace of the declarations and of course the positive Turkish response,” she said.
Both sides called for the resumption of oil production which has fallen precipitously from 1.3 million barrels a day last year, although the decision rests with Haftar. The National Oil Corp. said it would lift force majeure if armed forces were withdrawn from oil installations.
“There is now an overwhelming domestic and international consensus that this needs to happen and we have the added urgency of the specific crises of the electricity shortages” and build up of stored ammonia at Brega port, Williams said.
Security forces on Sunday confronted protesters angered over power outages in Tripoli. The demonstrations were a reminder of the “the fragility of the situation,” she said.
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