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Over the last eight months, Libya's once hopeful revolution has descended into a proxy war, with each side's militias receiving outside military support and constructing a narrative of victimisation to justify their attempts to vanquish their opponents. Miraculously, amidst this turmoil and destabilising outside intervention, a slight glimmer of hope has just emerged -- the UN-mediated talks that took place last week between supporters of different Libyan factions. Those who attended agreed on an agenda for further talks, drew up a list of confidence building measures to be implemented as a precursor to peace, and further rounds of dialogue with more participants were proposed.

After so many failed efforts at dialogue, it is tantalising to hope that these talks could be the glue that permanently holds Libya's

Over the last eight months, Libya's once hopeful revolution has descended into a proxy war, with each side's militias receiving outside military support and constructing a narrative of victimisation to justify their attempts to vanquish their opponents.

Miraculously, amid this turmoil and destabilising outside intervention, a slight glimmer of hope has just emerged - the UN-mediated talks that took place last week between supporters of different Libyan factions.

Those who attended agreed on an agenda for further talks, drew up a list of confidence building measures to be implemented as a precursor to peace, and further rounds of dialogue with more participants were proposed.

After so many failed efforts at dialogue, it is tantalising to hope that these talks could be the glue that permanently holds Libya's two warring coalitions together - allowing a functioning national unity government to be formed.

Tripoli's puppet government

Although this is possible, it is more likely that these talks will concurrently have a splintering effect on existing coalitions, destroying internal cohesion and rendering Libya's political landscape even more fractious and fluid than before. 

The Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) on January 12 decided not to attend the first round of the Geneva dialogue.

The calls for its non-participation were led by the Islamist-aligned Martyrs bloc, which is concerned that participation would result in a loss of face.

They goaded the GNC to declare that they would only attend talks if they could secure recognition as Libya's sole legitimate authority, an unreasonable and impossible precondition.

Many of the GNC's powerful backers, including the Misrata and Tripoli local councils, disregarded its decision and backed the talks, while key House of Representatives (HoR) boycotting members, aligned to Misrata and Tripoli, attended the talks as well.

As a result, power players in Misrata who favour compromise are speaking about the demise of the now unpopular, al-Hassi government and the reinstated GNC. Both these bodies were created by the Misratan militias and the local council after capturing Tripoli in August, so it would only be fitting that those same forces would disband them when they no longer serve their purposes.

Hence, there appears to be a growing divide in the Tripoli camp between moderate civic and militia leaders who acknowledge that dialogue is necessary to resolve the conflict and more hardline politicians and Islamists who refuse to compromise.

Splintering of the militias

Faced with political marginalisation, the GNC voted on January 18 to participate in the talks with the caveat that they be held in Ghat. This is clearly a prevarication to delay talks without facing the wrath of rejecting them outright. It is unlikely to save the GNC, which can now be thought of as an irrelevant talking shop.

Cracks are showing not only in the political veneer of the pro-Tripoli camp, but also more significantly in the military structure which props up the GNC and its institutions. On January 16, Operation Libya Dawn, the umbrella group of pro-Tripoli militias, declared a unilateral ceasefire.

Cracks are showing not only in the political veneer of the pro-Tripoli camp, but also more significantly in the military structure which props up the GNC and its institutions. On January 16, Operation Libya Dawn, the umbrella group of pro-Tripoli militias, declared a unilateral ceasefire.

However, many elements within the Libya Dawn coalition rejected both the ceasefire and the UN dialogue, and are likely to keep fighting regardless of the peace process.

This internal division could also prompt clashes within Libya Dawn, bringing further destruction to the country.  

This factionalism is also at play in the pro-Tobruk camp. Although the HoR sent a delegation to Geneva, its acquiescence stems more from international pressure rather than a commitment to dialogue.

General Haftar, along with his supporters in the Tobruk bloc, would rather push for a military victory to consolidate the HoR's existing legitimacy instead of being forced to make concessions through talks.

Indeed, although Haftar's Libyan National Army declared its own ceasefire on January 18, it stressed it would continue to pursue "terrorists".

In short, the war in Benghazi and Derna won't be stopping soon. In fact, the current ceasefire may help Haftar to relieve the pressure exerted by the Misratans opening up a front in the oil crescent in mid-December, allowing him to focus on winning in Benghazi.

The Geneva talks will likely be a catalyst that causes Libya's divisions to restructure along new lines with moderate, pro-dialogue elements from both camps joining forces to create a unity government, while being opposed by various dissenting militias.

This would redraw Libya's divisions without solving the country's problems. The hardliners are not going to stop fighting for their "piece of the pie" and therefore will represent a serious spoiler to any peace deal, even after it is signed.

In short, despite how positive the news is out of Libya, don't get your hopes up yet.

Jason Pack is a researcher at Cambridge University and president of Libya-Analysis.com.  Author of the Tony Blair Foundation's Libya Situation Report, he has advised NATO, its member governments, the UN, and the ICC about formulating policy to halt Libya's strife.

Rhiannon Smith researches international development at the UK's Open University. She has worked extensively in Libya on post-conflict development issues, most recently for the Italian organisation "No Peace Without Justice."

Source: Al Jazeera