Libya’s rival authorities announce ceasefire

LIBYA’S internationally recognised government in Tripoli announced a ceasefire and the leader of a rival parliament in eastern Libya also appealed for a halt to hostilities.

The statements offered hope for a de-escalation of a conflict that has wracked the country since a 2011 uprising, displacing hundreds of thousands, slashing oil production, and opening space for migrant smugglers and militants.

However, previous efforts to secure lasting ceasefires have stalled, and political leaders hold limited sway over armed groups in two broad factions that have been largely split between the west and east of Libya since 2014.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) has been locked in conflict with east-Libyan based forces led by veteran commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched a 14-month offensive on Tripoli before Turkish support for the GNA forced him to retreat in June.

Forces from both sides and their international backers have been mobilising around the central city of Sirte amid diplomatic efforts to forestall an escalation.

GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj “issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and all combat operations in all Libyan territories”, a statement said.

There was no immediate comment from Haftar or his Libyan National Army (LNA), but the head of an eastern-based parliament that is aligned with Haftar issued a statement appealing for an end to hostilities across the country.

The GNA and eastern parliament speaker Aguila Saleh both cited the spread of coronavirus as a reason for backing a ceasefire.

Saleh is seen to have gained influence compared to Haftar since the LNA’s retreat from Tripoli. Egypt, one of the LNA’s key backers, welcomed the statements from both parties.

International intervention in Libya has deepened since the LNA offensive began in April 2019, with the LNA also receiving backing from the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

The GNA appealed in its statement for the lifting of a seven-month blockade on oil facilities that has all but stopped the country’s output, saying revenue should be held in a special account and only be released after a political deal was reached.

The state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) said it backed the proposal, but that military forces should be withdrawn from oil facilities before any resumption of exports.

Distribution of oil revenue has been a key source of tension between the two sides. The acting U.N. envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, said she “warmly welcomed the points of agreement” in the statements by Saleh and Haftar, including calls for the resumption of oil production.

The U.N. has been coordinating international efforts for military, political and economic deals in Libya following an international conference in January in Berlin. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.