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A tenuous accord

The recent ‘Historic’ Libyan ceasefire agreement is already being called into question worldwide given multiple failures of similar agreements since the fall of the Gadafi government

A tenuous accord
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Will Libya's ceasefire agreement reached on October 23 and billed as historic by the United Nations hold this time? Scepticism over whether it would hold has begun emerging almost immediately.

The deal was signed in the UN Headquarters in Geneva between rival military representatives after nearly 10 years of conflict — triggered by the downfall of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Libya has been in turmoil ever since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew and killed Gaddafi.

The North African country has been dominated by armed groups and divided between two bitterly opposed administrations — the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, in Tripoli, and a rival administration in the east led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.

The deal at the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva was reached between military officers representing the Government in Tripoli in the east and that of Haftar in the west of the country.

Earlier this year the government in Tripoli had managed to end a siege of the capital and push Gen Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) forces out of much of Western Libya.

According to the deal, rival forces have agreed on a permanent nationwide ceasefire with immediate effect including the departure of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from the country within three months.

"The parties agreed to the departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya territory, air, land and seas within three months," said Stephanie Williams, the acting head of the UN mission in Libya, adding military trainers will also leave.

It is not that the warring factions have reached a ceasefire agreement for the first time. There had been ceasefires in the past also but were broken with frequency.

"It is not the first time a ceasefire has been signed. In the past, it was never implemented let alone reinforced on the ground," Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic award-winning journalist and analyst told Al Jazeera television.

Sounding cautious, he says that those who call the shots whether the ceasefire will be adhered to are not the Libyans any more. They are foreigners, especially Turkey and Russia.

However, Williams was optimistic about the success of the ceasefire. Citing the seniority of the military officers signing the agreement, she said "We should not let the cynics win. If they can reconcile after this long crisis they deserve our support."

It is not clear how the ceasefire will be enforced — given the patchwork of militias in Libya. Williams said the aim was to reintegrate the armed forces into a single body, and that this would start with categorisation and identification of all armed units, whether integrated or not within the main forces on either side.

Key details on implementing the ceasefire including monitoring the departure of foreign fighters and merging armed groups have been left on subcommittees in future talks.

Both sides have deployed thousands of foreign fighters in Libya including Syrians, Sudanese, Chadians and European mercenaries brought in by Russia's Wagner Group.

Turkey, the main backer of the GNA, has voiced scepticism that the ceasefire would hold, with President Tayyip Erdogan saying "it does not seem to be achievable."

Turkey, along with the LNA's main foreign backer Russia, the UAE and Egypt, has funnelled weapons and fighters into Libya despite a UN arms embargo, which they publicly backed.

Turkey has sent as many as 4,000 Syrian mercenaries to support the Government in Tripoli headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Mercenaries from Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organisation, have supported Haftar, and a steady flow of weaponry has been sent by the UAE. Questions are being asked as to whether it is possible to disarm the militias as all the institutions that came to power in the country since 2012 have so far failed to reign them in.

The degree to which the external forces adhere to the terms of the ceasefire will be an issue to be watched in the weeks to come. Reports suggest that people in Libya particularly in Tripoli are cautiously optimistic about the success of the ceasefire. Although they want an end to the war and destruction, they also insist that Haftar be held accountable for the 14-month assault on the capital by his Libya National Army, causing devastation and destruction.

One cause of the on-off civil war since 2011 has been disputes over the distribution of oil revenues between west and east of the country. Libya's energy facilities, the biggest prize for both the sides, were on the front line as mercenaries marched into ports and oil fields. Economic revival and political reconciliation are other major factors that have to be dealt with.

Many oil fields have been shut for a year, depriving the Libyan treasury of billions of dollars in revenue. Ra's Lanuf refinery and Es Sider oil terminal in eastern Libya would be opened shortly. El Sharara oilfield, Libya's biggest, resumed operation earlier this month. It is operating more than half its 3,00,000 barrels-a-day capacity.

The UN is pushing an economic track to seek agreement between the major factions on the future of management of Libya's wealth and its sovereign institutions including the Central Bank of Libya and Libyan Investment Authority.

The breakthrough also sets the stage for political talks in November in Tunis to find a lasting solution to the chaos after the ouster of Gaddafi. A crucial deal needs to be reached on power-sharing arrangements that satisfy both camps. It is also incumbent on the international community to support all efforts to bring peace and development in Libya.

The writer is a former Editor of PTI and served as the West Asia correspondent for the same. Views expressed are personal

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