Deal intended to pave way towards political solution to conflict praised as historic, but many receive it with caution.
Libya’s rivals have kicked off a UN-brokered prisoner exchange, which was part of a ceasefire agreement they inked more than two months ago in Geneva, the United Nations and Libyan officials have said.
The exchange of a first batch of prisoners, supervised by a joint military committee, took place on Friday in the southwestern village of al-Shwayrif, according to the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
In October, the two sides signed a nationwide, UN-brokered ceasefire deal that included an exchange of all war prisoners.
UNSMIL announced the prisoner exchange without giving details on how many prisoners were freed by each side.
It called for both sides to speed up the implementation of the ceasefire deal, including the exchange of all prisoners.
1/2 UNSMIL welcomes the remarkable success registered today by the exchange of prisoners from both sides under the supervision of the Joint Military Commission (5+5), and thanks to the good offices of the tribal sheikhs and elders. pic.twitter.com/AiVEWyVONG
— UNSMIL (@UNSMILibya) December 25, 2020
Libya is split between its UN-recognised government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east.
The two sides are backed by an array of local armed groups as well as regional and foreign powers.
The oil-rich country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
In April 2019, eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli, a campaign that stalled after months of fighting and eventually collapsed in June.
Haftar’s forces have since withdrawn to the coastal city of Sirte.
Fathi Bashagha, interior minister of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), hailed the exchange in a tweet, attaching photos of released prisoners.
The Tripoli Protection Unit, an armed group allied with the capital-based government, also posted a 31-second video, apparently showing the prisoner exchange, with an official reading the names of those released.
The prisoner exchange comes as Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar travelled to Libya, flanked by top military officers to inspect Turkish units in the war-torn country, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported.
The unscheduled visit comes after Haftar called on his fighters to “drive out” Turkish forces backing the GNA.
Turkish support for the GNA in Tripoli is what helped stave off the Tripoli offensive launched by Haftar with Russian, Egyptian and UAE backing in April last year.
This week, the Turkish parliament adopted a motion extending the deployment of soldiers in Libya by 18 months.