On October 19, 2020, Libyan rival forces resumed talks in Geneva, under the auspices of the UN, as established beforehand. Moreover, on October 23rd, they reached an agreement for a permanent ceasefire on the Libyan territory.
Libya’s two warring factions signed a “permanent” ceasefire agreement across the country on Friday following the five-day talks at the UN in Geneva. The accord concluded after discussions between military representatives of Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar, will be followed by the political discussions established in Tunisia on November 9th. That forum aims to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections,” the UN mission said. Also, separate political talks that start on October 26th, aim to create a new governing body and prepare for elections.
The agreement was negotiated within the framework of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (the committee consists of 5 senior military officers chosen by the GNA and 5 senior military officers chosen by Haftar) with talks on the basis of the UN Security Council resolution 2510 and 2542, as the result of four rounds of negotiations held since February of this year.
“The 5 + 5 Joint Military Commission talks in Geneva today culminate in a historic achievement as Libyan teams reach a permanent ceasefire agreement across Libya. This achievement is an important turning point towards peace and stability in Libya,” UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said on its Facebook page, which showed a live stream of the signing ceremony. “The road to a permanent ceasefire deal was often long and difficult,” Williams said in Arabic at the ceremony. “Before us is a lot of work in the coming days and weeks in order to implement the commitments of the agreement,” she added. “It is essential to continue work as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the many problems due to this conflict facing the Libyan people.”
“We have to give people hope of a better future,” Williams stated. She expressed hope the agreement will succeed “in ending the suffering of Libyans and allowing those displaced by the conflict to return to their homes.”
The present deal contains the following elements:
- All military units and armed groups must pull back from the front lines and return to their camps.
- All foreign fighters and mercenaries must leave Libya within three months – by January 23rd. Any military agreements either side has struck with their foreign backers must also be suspended until a new unified government is in place, with all foreign military trainers to depart.
For the implementation, the two sides will set up a joint military committee to form an operations room commanding a limited force of regular personnel. It will identify and categorize all Libya’s many armed groups with UN help and work out whether, and how, to integrate their fighters into state institutions. A new joint police operations room would secure areas from which the two sides’ military forces have withdrawn.
Both sides will work with the UN Libya mission to set up a way to monitor the truce and they have asked the UN Security Council for a resolution to ensure compliance.
As further steps, the two sides must continue with agreed measures to build confidence, including the opening of land and air routes between areas they control, curbing hate speech, exchanging detainees, and restructuring a security force for oil facilities. The two military delegations that struck the deal will reconvene soon with subcommittees to work out details on tough questions, including the withdrawal from front lines, the departure of mercenaries, and the unification of armed forces.
Ali Abushahma, a field commander for the GNA administration in Tripoli and the head of its delegation, said: “We have had enough suffering, enough bloodshed. I appeal to all Libya: Be one hand,” warning of polarisation by factions.
Amraja Alamami, head of Haftar’s delegation, pledged in a short speech to “implement what had been agreed upon in Geneva”.
Meanwhile, the first commercial passenger flight in more than a year from Tripoli landed in the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday as an apparent part of the deal.
In another sign of progress, the key oil ports of Ras Lanuf and al-Sidr would soon resume production. Libya’s prized light crude has long been a key factor in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
“There is still no clear sign that Libyan belligerents are looking at this as anything other than a period of posturing and positioning,” said Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. However, the UN is also pushing an economic track to seek agreement between the major factions on the future management of Libya’s wealth and its sovereign institutions.
“What prevails among (Libyan factions) is a desire to re-start the economy,” said Jalel Harchaoui, an analyst working on Libya. “That alignment is frail and temporary.”
Local reactions to the ceasefire
Libyans have reacted with a mix of hope and skepticism after the signing of the nationwide ceasefire deal intended to pave the way towards a political solution to the country’s grinding conflict.
“We’ve seen a lot of deals in the past,” said Hassan Mahmud al-Obeydi, a 40-year-old secondary school teacher from the eastern city of Benghazi. “What’s important is the implementation.”
“The war caused terrible social divisions,” added Obeydi. “Work is needed immediately, right now, to rebuild and to heal the deep wounds in Libyan society.”
In the capital Tripoli, pro-GNA fighter Salim Atouch voiced doubts the ceasefire would hold. “We have experience with a previous agreement, which was five days before Haftar’s attack on Tripoli, during which he destroyed the capital’s infrastructure and killed many people,” Atouch said. “I hope this won’t be like previous agreements, meaning we go back to war again. We will abide by it, but we are ready to react at any moment if it’s violated.”
Mohamed Dorda, co-founder and consulting director of geopolitical risk consultancy Libya Desk, said the ceasefire was a positive step that “creates a basis for the political talks”. But, he warned, “Libya needs a security arrangement to allow a government to be set up. If we don’t deal with the security crisis, we will find ourselves in the same situation in a few years.”
Massoud al-Fotmani, a 57-year-old from Benghazi who runs a group of food stores, said he hoped the ceasefire would hold. “The war has caused a terrible economic downturn,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of money because of the cutting of commercial ties between east and west due to the roads being closed.”
English teacher Mayssoon Khalifa, who works at a private school in Tripoli, echoed her call for lasting peace. “Many are hopeful, but not optimistic,” she said. “I sincerely wish that this deal will hold. Libya deserves better.”
International reactions to the ceasefire
The UN saluted the new Libyan ceasefire agreement that points to “a better, safer, and more peaceful future”. As such, UNSMIL chief, and Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, said “I would like to salute you, because what you have accomplished here takes a great deal of courage”, at the press conference in Geneva. “You have gathered for the sake of Libya, for the sake of your people, to take concrete steps to end their suffering.”
Williams said the two sides had come together first and foremost, as Libyans, together: “The road was long and difficult at times, but your patriotism has been your guide all the time, and you have succeeded in concluding an agreement for a successful and lasting ceasefire.”
The UNSMIL head added that the agreement “represents an important distinguishing mark for Libya and the Libyan people. I very much hope that future generations of Libyans will celebrate today’s agreement, as it represents that decisive and courageous first step towards a comprehensive settlement of the Libyan crisis.”
In addition, she mentioned that she knew that the Libyan people “can count on you” and added that “the United Nations is with you and the people of Libya. We will do our utmost to ensure that the international community lends its full and unwavering support to you.”
Moreover, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the ceasefire, telling journalists in New York on Friday that represented “a fundamental step toward peace and stability in Libya”. “I congratulate the parties for putting the interest of their nation ahead of their differences…Too many people have suffered for too long. Too many men, women, and children have died as a result of the conflict”, said the UN chief. “I call on the international community to support Libyans in implementing the ceasefire and in bringing an end to the conflict. This includes ensuring the full and unconditional respect for the Security Council arms embargo. And I urge the Libyan parties to maintain the current momentum and show the same determination in reaching a political solution to the conflict, resolving economic issues and addressing the humanitarian situation.”
The UN chief said UNSMIL was making preparations to resume the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum – which stalled when fighting escalated last year – adding that it will be preceded by a series of meetings and consultations that would facilitate “the resumption of inclusive, intra-Libyan political talks – Libyan-led and Libyan owned.”
“There is no military solution for the conflict in Libya. This ceasefire agreement is a critical step. There is much hard work ahead”, he warned.
Guterres said he hoped to appoint the current UN Middle East envoy, the Bulgarian Nickolay Mladenov, as the new Libya envoy to replace Ghassan Salame, who quit in March due to stress.
On Sunday, October 25th, the EU said in a statement that it welcomed the signing of the permanent ceasefire agreement in Libya, considering it to be a critical step towards peace. The statement stressed the necessity for the withdrawal of all mercenaries and foreign fighters, along with the need to prevent all foreign interference in Libya. It added that the EU member states warmly welcome the signing of the ceasefire agreement, which was achieved by the 5 + 5 Military Committee in Geneva.
Also, the European Commission welcomed the declaration of a ceasefire in Libya and called for it to go into immediate effect and for peace talks to resume. “The agreement of a permanent ceasefire is key for the resumption of a political dialogue,” EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Sano told reporters. “It’s very important, as well, to see this accord put into effect.”
The US hailed the ceasefire signed while also urged “internal and external actors to support the implementation of the agreement”. “This agreement is a major step forward toward realizing the shared interests of all Libyans in de-escalation, stability, and the departure of foreign fighters,” said a statement issued by the US embassy in Libya. “We urge internal and external actors now to support the good-faith implementation of the agreement.”
Germany welcomed the ceasefire hailing the accord as a “ray of hope”. “The ceasefire agreement finally promises a change of course from military to political logic,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement. “This news is the first ray of hope for the people of Libya in a long time.”
The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs called “on all parties to faithfully implement the agreement.”
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry also welcomed the signing of the agreement. “We express the Kingdom’s aspiration that the agreement will pave the way for the success of the political and economic negotiations,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this was an “important step,” while it expressed its full “support … to create common ground between the parties.”
The UAE on Saturday welcomed the agreement, a Foreign Ministry statement said. It added that a political solution under UN supervision was the only way to end the conflict in Libya.
Al Jazeera’s Aleksandra Stojanovich-Godfroid, reporting from Moscow, said Russia has not yet officially weighed in on the ceasefire agreement signed between Libya’s warring sides but that it was adamant any accord reached must take into account its interests in the country and wider region. “What we have is actually coming from the acting charge d’affaire of Russia in Libya who says Russia of course welcomes the ceasefire and hopes it will further lead to durable peace,” Stojanovich-Godfroid said. “We know from Russia’s standpoint that any durable peace or solution for Libya should include all political parties that have an influence on the ground in Libya, that also means supporters of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. They also say that oil revenue should be transparently and fairly distributed among Libyans.” “Russia has an interest in Libya, they want to keep their influence there, maybe not to the extent that they had during Gaddafi’s rule but to be a player in North Africa.”
Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think-tank, warned that Russia and Turkey would want economic dividends from their military interventions. “It’s naive to get them to just leave,” he said. “The best-case scenario is that they win economic concessions and limit their presence on the ground. The worst is that fighting resumes.”
“It’s good that the two sides have been prepared to compromise, but the devil is in the detail,” said Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to Libya. “There are an awful lot of questions. A key one is: will countries that have been sponsors of military forces in Libya support this compromise?”
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said the success of the ceasefire deal pertains to many factors on the ground. “We will wait and see if this agreement will be implemented on the ground given the fact that we have seen in the past deals being violated by both factions,” he said. “This also pertains to the issues of foreign fighters and detainees on both sides,” Abdelwahed added.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from London, Sami Hamdi, Editor in The International Interest said: “I would caution anybody from having too much optimism in what the UN can bring [to Libya].” He explained that Yemen’s warring sides had reached a similar UN-brokered deal in Stockholm before going back to fighting soon after.
Economic consequences of the ceasefire
The UN said Sunday that political discussions targeting a deal on a “unified governance framework” for the North African country will begin October 26th via video conference, while the face-to-face meetings will kick-off in Tunisia in November 9th.
The UN announced the discussions two days after Libya’s state-run National Oil Corp. said daily crude production would rise above 1 million barrels in the next four weeks, now that the last of the nation’s oil ports have reopened. Increased output and exports are critical for the economy which was hammered by the fighting between the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and his eastern rival, military commander Khalifa Haftar. Libya holds Africa’s largest crude reserves.
Libya pumped less than 100,000 barrels a day before Haftar lifted a blockade of oil facilities in September. Daily output reached 560,000 barrels last week and would rise to 800,000 within a fortnight, the NOC said. The company won’t be able to pump at last year’s levels of around 1.2 million barrels a day due to damaged infrastructure and budget constraints, it said.
If Libya’s daily output rises to 1 million barrels as quickly as the NOC says, that will add to the challenge for the OPEC+ producer alliance, which is trying to curb global crude supplies and bolster prices. The coalition and partners including Russia meet next month to decide on policy. Also, OPEC+ is weighing whether to delay a plan to ease production cuts in January. Even its worst-case analysis of the market didn’t anticipate such high Libyan output until late 2021. Libya is exempt from production curbs due to its strife.
Cooperation with Turkey
However, Turkey, the main backer of the GNA, immediately voiced skepticism that the ceasefire would hold, with President Tayyip Erdogan saying “it does not seem too achievable”.
Touching upon the ceasefire agreement, on Sunday, Libyan Defense Minister Salaheddin al-Namroush said: “The signing of the initial agreement does not include the military cooperation agreement with the state of Turkey, an ally of the legitimate government”. Also, “we affirm the strengthening of cooperation with our Turkish ally and the continuation of the training programs that have been received and will be received by affiliates at the training institutes of the Ministry of Defense of the GNA.”
The ceasefire stated that with immediate effect, “until the new unified government assumes its functions, all military agreements on training inside Libya shall be suspended and training crews shall depart the country.” However, Namroush underlined that this did not include cooperation with Turkey. Noting the possibility that Haftar’s militias may not comply with the truce, he said the accords on security and military training must be focused on now more than ever now. The defense minister said one of the most important benefits of bringing peace to Libya is building a Libyan army on sound foundations and forming a comprehensive national doctrine for future generations.
The High Council of State similarly said in a statement that “the agreement does not include the legitimate agreements with Turkey”. The council also noted that the agreement does not annul the war crimes committed by Haftar’s militias in their attacks on the capital Tripoli and said those responsible for the mass graves in the city of Tarhuna should be held accountable.
On the other side, the Turkish Defense Ministry on Saturday, following the ceasefire deal, had reiterated that the military training, cooperation and consultancy given to the Libyan armed forces continues and shared photos of the training.
Jason Pack, a fellow at the Middle East Institute and founder of risk consultancy Libya Analysis, said Turkey’s skepticism of the agreement is well-founded given the complexity of the conflict. “Erdogan is a smart man, he understands that Libya is a multi-dimensional chess game so they’ve solved the lowest, most basic level of getting some actors who don’t have much power on the ground to say ‘we can’t win the war militarily’,” Pack said.
“They haven’t dealt with the underlying issues, the second and third degrees of the chess game, how revenues are to be divided, who’s to run the different semi-sovereign institutions, how do we have an interim period… all of that remains in abeyance because it hasn’t been discussed.”
This article was edited using data from the following websites: www.aljazeera.com, www.reuters.com, www.al-monitor.com, www.english.aawsat.com, www.libyaobserver.ly, www.news.un.org, www.dailysabah.com, and www.bloomberg.com.