Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 34, 26 February 2020

Libya: rivals withdraw from Geneva peace talks
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news

Libya’s warring sides have suspended their participation in the United Nations-sponsored peace talks. Military commander Khalifa Haftar has refused to take part in the negotiations on 25 February 2020 due to the UN's approval of only eight of 13 names which they have put forward for the delegation. Further, the eastern Libyan lawmakers have stated that they would not participate in peace talks with politicians allied to the internationally recognized government.

The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) ruled by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli, pulled out of the process on 19 February 2020, after rockets hit a port in the capital, further stating that it would wait until progress was made on military negotiations.

These developments come amid the UN Libyan Mission's statement that senior military figures from both sides have agreed to submit a draft ceasefire agreement to their leaderships before they meet again next month. The UN was to bring legislators on 27 February 2020, from both sides to end the fighting over the capital and engage in dialogue regarding military, politics and the economy.

Issues at large

Libya has been torn by conflict since the 2011 uprising which ousted long time strongman Muammar Gaddafi. The country is currently split between two rival administrations - the Tripoli-based GNA and another allied with Haftar in the eastern city of Tobruk that controls key oil fields and export terminals. Each administration is backed by numerous foreign countries.

Several rounds of talks between both sides have taken place this year. A ceasefire was reached between Haftar's LNA and forces loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli on 14 January 2020. However, both sides blamed each other for breaches. Both sides then travelled to Moscow for talks with Russian and Turkish mediators, aimed at reaching a long-term agreement. However, the deal in Moscow was left unfinished.

High-ranking military officers from both sides attended UN-sponsored talks in Geneva for the first time in an attempt to build a lasting ceasefire on 4 February 2020. Representatives from two warring parties began United Nations-led talks in Geneva. Five senior officers appointed by the GNA and five appointed by Haftar participated in the talks.

The 10-member body known as the Libya Joint Military Commission which was created at the end of a 12-nation summit held in Berlin was to supervise a tentative truce. However, since the Berlin talks, both sides have increased the intensity of fighting and repeatedly breached a UN arms embargo first imposed in 2011. Libya's warring sides resumed talks in Geneva on 21 February 2020 aimed at brokering a lasting ceasefire in the war-torn country.

The conflict has resulted in Libyan oil production to collapse. 90% of the Libyan government’s revenue is dependent on oil and gas exports. The blockade imposed by Haftar has created immense problems for Libya. Political instability and conflict have derailed Libya's plans to diversify its economy. The ideological divide that exists between the warring sides in Libya has resulted in aggravating the issue. Furthermore, the militias are split along regional, ethnic and local lines, making it a sensitive mix that has no clear understanding of democracy. Further, the fighting has left many people dead and has forced people to move from their homes.

In perspective

A durable ceasefire is what Libya requires. The country has witnessed many ceasefire agreements that have not been sustainable. With the UN trying to pick up the pieces in Libya and the influence of other external actors, there needs to be a talk on just distribution of Libya's oil wealth and a political agreement would have to be reached for the country to be stable.  

Looking from a larger perspective of North Africa, other nations in the regions such as Sudan and South Sudan have reached a stage where warring sides have come together. Libya should follow suit to ensure stability internally as well as externally. 

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