Conflict Alerts # 153, 26 August 2020
In the news
On 21 August, Libya's government announced a unilateral ceasefire calling for the demilitarising of the city of Sirte. The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) also called for Parliamentary and Presidential elections to be held in March, and to bring an end to an oil blockade imposed by rival forces. According to a statement released by the GNA, it has "issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and all combat operations in all Libyan territories" adding that the main aim of the truce was to enforce "full sovereignty over the Libyan territory and the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries." There was no immediate comment from military commander Khalifa Haftar but Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the pro-Haftar Libyan Parliament, called on all parties to adhere to the truce stating that the ceasefire will prevent foreign military intervention in Libya.
However, on 24 August, Haftar rejected the GNA's call for a ceasefire dismissing the ceasefire announcement as a "marketing" stunt. Spokesman for Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) Ahmed Mismari stated, "The initiative that al-Sarraj signed is for media marketing," adding, "There is a military build-up and the transfer of equipment to target our forces in Sirte. If al-Sarraj wanted a ceasefire, he would have drawn his forces back, not advanced towards our units in Sirte."
Issues at large
First, the history of ceasefires in Libya. The success of Ceasefires has always been deeply uncertain in Libya, with both sides agreeing initially and then pulling out, or not trusting the other party. Earlier this year, Haftar walked away from the ceasefire agreement on the account being unhappy with the language of the draft agreement as well as the involvement of Russia and Turkey in the monitoring the ceasefire. Similarly, in April, the government rejected a unilateral ceasefire declaration by Haftar stating that it did not trust the latter.
Second, the impact of a power struggle within the Haftar camp on ceasefires. After Haftar lost the battle for Tripoli, Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives has emerged as the most influential and is seen as the alternative powerbroker for the country's east. Internal power struggles impact on the outcomes of the ceasefire.
Third, external intervention in ceasefires. In an attempt to broker peace, Libya has become a turned into a proxy war, with several foreign powers joining in to defend ideological and economic interests. Recently, Turkey has stepped in, using drones and Syrian mercenaries to protect Tripoli and defeat Haftar. However, despite Turkey's aggression, the support from Russian and UAE backing Haftar has made the situation more challenging.
Although the proposed truce underscores the shifting balance of power on the ground, the prospect of yet another round of conflict will be devastating for all sides and would leave neither side closer to consolidating a grip on the whole country. What Libya needs a dialogue leading up to a ceasefire followed further negotiations an attempt of which has never been made. This would help avoid numerous fallouts such as military intervention or the division of Libya which would further plunge the country into chaos.
Further, the international community and allies supporting either side have to take decisive steps re-establish stability to Libya rather than prolong the conflict.