UN voices optimism as military rivals meet in Libya

The United Nations voiced optimism on Monday as rival Libyan military officers began talks on home soil for the first time following a ceasefire agreement last month.

“A lot of progress was made today,” Stephanie Williams, the UN’s acting envoy to the troubled North African nation, said at the end of the first day of talks.

“The courage and determination… between those officers is what is needed from your political class,” she added.

The three-day meeting of the joint military commission is taking place in Ghadames, a desert oasis some 465 kilometres (290 miles) south-west of the capital Tripoli.

The remote area, near Libya’s borders with both Algeria and Tunisia, is far from the power bases of either side.

The military commission had been dubbed “5+5,” because it is made up of five officers from each camp.

“It’s not the 5+5 now, it’s the Committee of Ten,” added Williams. “It’s truly a joint Libyan committee.”

The meeting follows an October 23 deal when the two warring factions signed a “permanent” ceasefire agreement intended to pave the way towards a political solution to the country’s grinding conflict.

Williams said Monday that a “determination to implement the ceasefire agreement was present at the table.”

Libya, with Africa’s largest proven crude oil reserves, has been wracked by conflict for nearly a decade, since the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

It has since been dominated by armed groups and divided between two bitterly-opposed administrations: the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli, and a rival administration in the east backed by the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The talks are part of long-running efforts to broker peace.

Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019, but was pushed back in June by the GNA with military support from Turkey.

Warring factions returned to the negotiating table in September in UN-supported talks, with negotiations being held in Morocco, Egypt and Switzerland.

On November 9, the political leaders are due to hold face-to-face talks in Tunisia to discuss a political roadmap that would eventually lead to presidential and parliamentary elections.

The UN mission last week held a virtual preparatory meeting, with both sides of the conflict criticising the mission over the choice of attendees.

“Libyans want respect and justice; they want unified and fair governance; and most importantly they want national unity, national sovereignty and a coherent social fabric. What matters to the Libyan people is ‘what’ — not ‘who,’” Williams said at that online meeting.

First published on Arab Weekly

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