Heads of Libya’s warring sides in Russia for talks

Meetings attended by warring factions after truce came into force raised hopes for revival of the political process.

This combination of pictures created on January 12, 2020 shows Libya''s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj speaking during a press conference in the capital Tunis on August 7, 2017 and Libyan Ge
It is hoped Al-Sarraj, left, and Haftar, right, will sign the ceasefire agreement in Moscow [File: Photos by Fethi Belaid and HO/AFP]

Talks in Russia aimed at agreeing on an unconditional and open-ended ceasefire in Libya failed to achieve a breakthrough on Monday and have been adjourned for the night.

The head of the UN-supported Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, signed a draft ceasefire agreement, while Khalifa Haftar – commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) – requested more time to consider it.

“They have a positive view of the document and asked for extra time until the next morning to decide,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said of Hafter and his delegation. “I hope they will make a positive decision. Russian and Turkish representatives will continue to offer their assistance.”

Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict, urged the factions on Monday to sign a binding truce to end a nine-month-old war and pave the way for a peaceful settlement. 

More than 280 civilians and about 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced since Haftar launched his assault to seize the capital Tripoli, according to the United Nations.

Turkey was working to ensure the truce became permanent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Speaking alongside Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Ankara, Erdogan said he will attend a summit in Berlin on Sunday to discuss developments in Libya, along with Conte and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I especially hope for the signing of a permanent ceasefire agreement some time soon,” Erdogan told the press conference.

The Moscow talks were held a day after a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey came into force in Libya.

Libyan forces loyal to Haftar announce conditional ceasefire

It was unclear if the two leaders al-Sarraj and Haftar would meet face to face.

Haftar’s forces have so far failed to capture the capital Tripoli, where the UN-supported GNA resides, after months of fierce fighting.

Libyan academic Mustafa Feituri told Al Jazeera it was unclear if the temporary ceasefire will hold. 

“The stickiest point is the condition of having Haftar’s forces withdraw from southern Tripoli. I do not see Haftar accepting this condition because that simply would mean defeat for him,” Feituri said.

“The other difficult point is the withdrawal of Haftar’s forces from Terhuna, the main supply and control point for his forces. If he leaves this area, there will be infringement. So it is unlikely that he will leave that area.”

Under attack

Libya has been racked by turmoil since longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

The oil-rich country has since been split between two rival administrations based in the country’s east and west amid a conflict drawing increasing involvement from foreign powers. Since April, the Tripoli-based GNA has been under attack from eastern forces loyal to Haftar, which on January 6 captured the strategic coastal city of Sirte.

The GNA and Haftar’s Libyan National Army agreed to a conditional truce called by Russia and Turkey that came into force at midnight local time on Sunday (22:01 GMT on Saturday). Both warring sides have since accused the other of violations.

The ceasefire followed a joint call by Erdogan – who backs al-Sarraj and has sent troops to help the GNA – and Putin, who analysts have long seen as supporting Haftar.

Asked Saturday about Russian private security companies in Libya, Putin responded: “If there are Russian citizens there, they do not represent the interests of the Russian state and do not receive any money from the Russian state.”

Pro-Haftar forces are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Al-Sarraj has also accused Paris of supporting Haftar and tacitly backing his assault on Tripoli, claims denied by French officials.

‘Turn the page’

Earlier, Interfax cited Lev Dengov, head of the Russian contact group on Libya, as saying al-Sarraj and Haftar would discuss “the possibility of signing a truce and the details of such a document”.

Separately, Khaled al-Mechri, head of Libya’s High Council of State, said the signing of the agreement in Moscow would pave the way for the revival of the political process in the country.

Al-Mechri told Al Ahrar TV he would accompany al-Sarraj to Moscow, while Aguila Salah, speaker of the eastern-based parliament, would travel with Haftar.

Meanwhile, in a short televised speech on Monday, al-Sarraj called on Libyans to “turn the page on the past”.

“I call on all Libyans to turn the page on the past, reject discord and to close ranks to move towards stability and peace,” he said.

In an interview with Al Ahrar TV, al-Sarraj said on Monday the GNA had accepted the ceasefire deal to prevent more bloodshed in the country.

“We will not ignore the sacrifices of our sons and martyrs or our dream for a civil state,” he said. “Our acceptance of the cease-fire comes from a position of strength to maintain national and social cohesion.”

Al-Sarraj said his government forces, however, were ready “to resume military operations in case of any break to the ceasefire”.

Berlin talks

Germany plans to hold a summit aimed at plotting a path to peace in Libya on January 19. The meeting will coincide with a one-day visit to Berlin by Erdogan.

The Turkish leader’s presence is seen as essential to the success of any conference on Libya, since Ankara’s decision to deploy military advisers and possibly troops there has made it a major player in the country’s long-running civil war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the summit on Saturday, adding the United Nations would lead talks. She said Libya’s warring parties would need to play a major role if a solution was to be found.

Merkel said the aim was to give Libya the chance of becoming a sovereign and peaceful country.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed on Monday the ceasefire in Libya initiated by Turkey and Russia, but cautioned the United Nations must lead the process of rebuilding the country.

“A ceasefire, yes it is a first step in the right direction, but what you need is a process for consolidation, for reconstruction and a government of unity. There is a long way to go. This has to be a UN-led process,” she told reporters. “This is of utmost importance.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies