Delegates from Libya’s rival administrations met for talks in Morocco more than two weeks after the two sides announced a surprise ceasefire.
The meeting, held on Sunday at the initiative of Morocco, which hosted peace talks in 2015 that led to the creation of a United Nations-recognised government for Libya, kicked off in the coastal town of Bouznika, south of Rabat.
Dubbed “Libyan Dialogue”, the talks brought together five members of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and five from a parliament in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk.
The discussions were a prelude to a major meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, on Monday and Tuesday that brings together the leaders of rival Libyan groups.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, in remarks before Sunday’s meeting got under way, said his country was offering Libyans “space” to discuss points of contention dividing them.
“The kingdom is ready to provide Libyans with a space to discuss [issues], according to their will, and will applaud them regardless of the outcome,” Bourita said.
“Morocco has no agenda or initiative to submit” to the two sides, Bourita added.
A solution to Libya’s crisis must be decided by the Libyans themselves under the auspices of the United Nations, he said, before delegates met behind closed doors.
Libya has endured about 10 years of violent chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The crisis worsened last year when renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar – who backs the Tobruk parliament and is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia – launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli from the GNA.
Haftar was beaten back earlier this year by Turkish-backed GNA forces and fighting has now stalled around the Mediterranean city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s eastern oilfields and export terminals.
On August 22, the rival administrations announced separately they would cease all hostilities and hold nationwide elections, drawing praise from world powers.
Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to Libya, said the rival sides talking was a good first step, but there is much work to do to achieve lasting peace.
“First of all, it needs the buy-in of broader group of political players – tribal leaders, society leaders, municipal leaders. Secondly, it needs the buy-in from the military factions, particularly Haftar, and it has to be a genuine ceasefire,” Millett told Al Jazeera. “Thirdly, it needs the buy-in of the entire international community.”
Mohamed Chtatou, a professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat, said Sunday’s talks were “historic in many ways” and likely touched on possible appointees for a future government and key positions, including head of the Central Bank of Libya, chairman of the National Oil Corporation, and the prosecutor general.
“This meeting is good for the reunification of Libya and bringing the country back on its feet,” Chtatou told Al Jazeera. “I’m sure the foreign players are not happy about what is happening because they all have their stakes in Libya. The Libyans want peace and it’s Libyans talking to Libyans – so that is very important.”
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said the fact that Haftar is not represented at the meeting does not mean he is excluded.
“In fact, the delegation representing the Tobruk-based parliament is considered in one way or another the political arm of Haftar’s forces on the ground. So the Tobruk-based parliament, which is affiliated to the warlord Khalifa Haftar, is now representing Haftar’s view in the meeting in Morocco,” he said.
Delegates from the two sides will also meet other factions, including political parties and remnants of Gaddafi’s regime, for talks brokered by the European Union and the UN mission (UNSMIL) in Switzerland starting on Monday.
Sunday’s meeting in Morocco coincided with closed-door talks in Istanbul between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj, the Turkish presidency said.
During the meeting, Erdogan stated Turkey will “continue to stand in solidarity with Libya’s UN-recognised legitimate government, and reiterated that Turkey’s priority is to restore Libya’s stability, without further delay”, a statement said.
“Libya’s peace and stability would benefit its neighbours and the entire region, starting with Europe,” said Erdogan. “The international community ought to assume a principled stance in that regard.”
Future settlement ‘complicated’
At a January summit in Berlin, the main countries involved in the Libyan conflict agreed to respect an arms embargo and to stop interfering in Libya’s domestic affairs.
But on Wednesday, the interim UN envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, denounced what she called “blatant” ongoing violations of the arms embargo in the North African country.
According to an interim report from UN experts, “the arms embargo remains totally ineffective” and violations are “extensive, blatant and with complete disregard for the sanctions”.
Williams said UNSMIL was also receiving reports of the “large-scale presence of foreign mercenaries and operatives” in Libya, adding this complicates chances of a future settlement.