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Libya rivals in Moscow to sign ceasefire deal

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This handout picture released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on January 13, 2020, shows Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu shaking hands with Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar in Moscow. (Photo by HO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP) / 

The heads of Libya’s warring sides were to meet in Moscow on Monday to sign a ceasefire deal ending nine months of heavy fighting.

The meeting follows a diplomatic push by Turkey and Russia, which is keen to bolster its status as a powerbroker in the Middle East and step into a diplomatic void left by what observers see as a partial US retreat.

The two sides are expected to sign an agreement on the terms of a ceasefire that took effect over the weekend, raising hopes of an end to the fighting that has wracked the oil-rich North African country since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has been under attack since last April from forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country.

Haftar and Sarraj were to meet in Moscow for talks along with “representatives of other Libyan sides”, the Russian foreign ministry said, with Turkey and Russia’s foreign and defence ministers acting as mediators.

Russian news agencies reported representatives of the two sides had arrived for talks, but it was unclear if Haftar and Sarraj would meet face-to-face.

The ceasefire initiative was launched by President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who jointly called for a truce in Istanbul last week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Putin on Saturday and he supported her drive to hold a peace conference sponsored by the United Nations in Berlin soon.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was also due in Turkey on Monday to discuss the situation in Libya with Erdogan.

‘Turn page on past’
Sarraj on Monday called on Libyans to “turn the page on the past, reject discord and to close ranks to move towards stability and peace”.

His comments came after a ceasefire began at midnight on Sunday (2200 GMT on Saturday) in line with Putin and Erdogan’s joint call.

Sarraj confirmed the ceasefire had taken effect.

Since the start of the offensive against Tripoli, more than 280 civilians and about 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced, according to the United Nations.

Turkey and Russia’s diplomatic offensive came despite the countries being seen as supporting opposing sides.

Ankara dispatched troops — in a training capacity, it said — to support the GNA in January in a move criticised by leading European powers including Britain and France and US President Donald Trump.

Russia has been accused of backing pro-Haftar forces, which are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all regional rivals of Turkey.

Several hundred Russian mercenaries are reported to be in Libya supporting Haftar but Putin said on Saturday that any Russians in the country were not in Moscow’s pay.

‘Second Syria’
The head of Libya’s High Council of State, Khaled al-Mechri, said the ceasefire would pave the way for the revival of the political process.

The head of Russia’s contact group to Tripoli, Lev Dengov, said the two rivals would have to determine in the Russian capital “the terms of the future settlement in Libya, including the possibility of signing an agreement on the ceasefire and its details”.

“They will have separate meetings with Russian officials and emissaries of the Turkish delegation, which is cooperating with Russia on this issue,” said Dengov, quoted by Russian news agencies.

“Representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt will probably be present as observers at the talks.”

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, including former colonial power Italy, fear that Islamist militants and migrant smugglers, already highly active in Libya, will take further advantage of the chaos.

King Abdullah of Jordan on Monday warned that thousands of fighters have left Syria for Libya and “that is something we in the region but also our European friends will have to address in 2020”.


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