Libya cease-fire: perspectives

After five days of discussions in Geneva, organised by UN, a permanent cease-fire agreement was signed this Friday (October 23rd). The warring parties in Libya have signed a national permanent cease-fire “effective immediately”. According to the UN special envoy, “this accomplishment represents a historical step towards peace and stability in Libya”.

This crucial event came after 9 years of turmoil and chaos in Lybia. After the fall of Muammar Gaddhafi’s regime in 2011, Libya has plonged into a political chaos where two authorities fight for the power: the Government of National Agreement (GNA), established in Tripoli and recognised by UN and a power represented by marshal Khalifa Haftar, controlling the east and a part of the south of the country. In April 2019, Haftar had launched a powerful offensive against the capital city, but after fourteen months of fighting and inspite of Egypt’s, UAE’s and Russia’s support, the marshal lost against the UN troops supported by Turkey.

The perspectives in regard to the future of the country and the stability in North Africa can be easily forseen through the statements of some key actors in the region. For instance, the UN praised the decision of a permanent cease-fire, especially when it was made under the auspices of the organisation. Considered a major victory, the agreement was largely welcomed by western countries and organisations. The European Union, through the voice of its foreign policy spokesman, Peter Sano, considers the cease-fire a “key for the resumption of a political dialogue”. Also, the United States, Germany, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, hailed the historical agreement considering it a crucial step towards stability and peace and underlining the importance of its immediate application.

On the other hand, there is a more tempered tone coming from the voice of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He questioned the viability of a permanent ceasefire signed between Libya’s two rival factions, one of which is supported by Ankara. “Today’s ceasefire agreement was actually not made at the highest level, it was at a lower level. Time will tell whether it will last,” Erdogan, who backs the GNA, told reporters in Istanbul. “So it seems to me that it lacks credibility,” he said.

However, Libyan authorities said on October 25 that a permanent cease-fire reached during talks last week in Geneva would not affect military deals with Turkey and they would continue cooperation with Ankara. Touching on the cease-fire agreement signed under the leadership of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) between delegations representing the Libyan government and Khalifa Haftar, the leader of illegitimate forces in the east of the country, Libyan Defense Minister Salaheddin al-Namroush said, “the signing of the initial agreement does not include the military cooperation agreement with the state of Turkey, an ally of the legitimate government.” “We affirm the strengthening of cooperation with our Turkish ally and the continuation of the training programs that have been received and will be received by affiliates at the training institutes of the Ministry of Defense of the Government of National Accord.” Noting the possibility that Haftar’s militias may not comply with the truce, he said the accords on security and military training must be focused on more than ever now.

He said one of the most important benefits of bringing peace to Libya is building a Libyan army on sound foundations and forming a comprehensive national doctrine based on the younger generation.

The High Council of State said in a statement that “the agreement does not include the legitimate agreements with Turkey.” It stressed that the agreement does not mean “in any way an explicit or implicit recognition of the legitimacy of the aggressor force.” The council also noted that the agreement does not annul the war crimes committed by Haftar’s militias in their attacks on the capital Tripoli and said those responsible for the mass graves in the city of Tarhuna should be held accountable.

Another article of the agreement said military training activities that are being held under military agreements would be halted and training teams would leave the country until a new unity government takes over. Turkey’s military training support to Libyan army members is ongoing under the framework of the Military Training, Cooperation and Consultation Agreement between the two countries.

In the vision of international observers, the cease-fire agreement reached in Geneva on October 23rd may seem like a final victory or a new bright beginning for the North-African nation. However, the perspectives on the near future may have a more realistic nuance in the vision of Libyan citizens. Libyans have reacted with a mix of hope and doubts after the signing of a nationwide ceasefire deal intended to pave the way towards a political solution to the country’s conflict. Few are under any illusions about the difficulties of turning it into lasting peace on the ground: “We have experience with a previous agreement, which was five days before Haftar’s attack on Tripoli, during which he destroyed the capital’s infrastructure and killed many people,” pro-GNA fighter Salim Atouch said, voicing doubts the ceasefire would hold. “I hope this won’t be like previous agreements, meaning we go back to war again. We will abide by it, but we are ready to react at any moment if it’s violated.” he added.

“It’s good that the two sides have been prepared to compromise, but the devil is in the detail,” said Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to Libya. “There are an awful lot of questions. A key one is – will countries that have been sponsors of military forces in Libya support this compromise?”.

The important decisions made in Geneva are to show us how real is the perspective of peace and stability in Libya. The answers to the multiple questions generated by the permanent cease-fire agreement will unfold gradually before our eyes. The only thing we can be sure about momentarily is the fact that efforts are being made to create peace in the region and the international community tends to prefer the political diallogue instead of armed conflicts.