Libya rivals show ‘genuine will’ to start ceasefire talks: UN

Ghassan Salame says warring factions agree in principle to start negotiations over permanent ceasefire.

UN Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame
UN Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame holds a news briefing in the run-up to UN-brokered military talks in Geneva [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

Geneva, Switzerland – The United Nations envoy to Libya has said representatives of the country’s rival factions attending talks in Geneva agree in principle to turning a fragile truce into a lasting ceasefire, as he decried ongoing violations of an arms embargo by both sides and their backers.

Addressing reporters in the Swiss city, Ghassan Salame said on Tuesday his office had collected evidence of the continuing violations and referred the issue to the UN Security Council.

Salame said the meetings of the so-called “5+5 military commission”, which started on Monday, were crucial in ending the military escalation.

Known as the “Libya Joint Military Commission,” the 10-member body is comprised of five delegates from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli and led by Prime Minister  Fayez al-Sarraj, and five appointed by eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.

In April last year, Haftar’s forces launched an offensive to seize the capital from the GNA. Clashes have continued, despite a shaky truce brokered by Turkey and Russia on January 12 and an international gathering in Germany a week later that concluded with world powers signing a 55-point declaration to end foreign interference and work towards a permanent ceasefire.

“Both sides have come to Geneva and we have started talks in an attempt to turn the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side,” Salame said.

“There is an agreement to convert the truce into a lasting ceasefire, so the principle has been adopted by both sides,” he said.

“There is a clear willingness and genuine will to sit together and start negotiating,” Salame said, adding that meetings were, for the time being, held in separate rooms.

The envoy said discussions would focus on which conditions would be necessary on the ground to implement the ceasefire and which role the UN or any other international organisation would play in this regard.

“It is, after all, a decision that needs to be taken by the Libyans themselves: what kind of monitors they want for the ceasefire,” Salame said.

Embargo violations, oil blockade

The joint military commission is the result of the high-level meeting held in Berlin that was attended by Libya’s warring sides and international powers, including some that back the rival factions.

The GNA is supported by Turkey, while Haftar has the backing of Egypt as well as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among others.

Despite the commitments made in Berlin, Salame was critical of the ongoing breach of the embargo by both sides. he said the arms embargo imposed in 2011 has been violated incessantly since then.

“The Berlin conference called for a better respect of this resolution. What I told the Security Council is that this respect is not there, that we have evidence of new equipment but also new fighters, non-Libyan fighters joining the two camps”.

He said both sides were violating the arms embargo.

“Mercenaries and weapons continue to enter Libya. I have asked the Security Council the swift adoption of a resolution that would endorse the decisions taken in Berlin and, in particular, to implement the sanctions against violations of the arms embargo.”

Salame said his office has evidence of new non-Libyan fighters joining the two camps.

“There are more than 20 million pieces of weapons in Libya and the country doesn’t need more,” he said.

Asked whether the meetings in Geneva would also address a blockade imposed by Haftar’s forces on Libya’s main oil terminals, Salame said the issue would be most likely discussed at a separate meeting in Cairo.

The blockade has severely disrupted oil production, with Libya’s output plummeting from 1.3 million barrels per day to as little as 72,000 barrels per day – eroding in the process the oil-rich country’s cash reserves.

“We have taken as the United Nations a very strong position for the non-involvement of oil issues in political disputes”.

But the issue may take active international support to be solved, added the envoy, hinting at the major foreign players backing Haftar’s manoeuvres.

Arturo Varvelli, a Libya expert and head of the Rome office of the European Council for Foreign Relations said he remained sceptical that the military council would achieve any concrete results.

“The problem lies with the pressures and interference of foreign powers on the players, regardless of the Libyans’ willingness to come to an agreement,” Varvelli told Aljazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera