The UN-backed government in Libya has announced a ceasefire in the civil war which pits it against eastern-based forces headed by Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general who has been trying to seize power in the oil-rich North African state.
Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, which is backed and armed by Turkey, said orders have been issued “to all military forces for an immediate ceasefire and a cessation of war operations across all Libyan territory”.
A separate call for a ceasefire also came on Friday from Aguila Saleh, speaker of the eastern-based House of Representatives, a parliament that is aligned with Gen Haftar – a sign, some believe, of a split in the general's camp. Gen Haftar has not made any response.
The announcements are being seen by analysts and diplomats as a signal of a de-escalation in a proxy war which has drawn in regional and international powers who have provided mercenaries, sophisticated weapons, logistical support and diplomatic cover to rival sides.
The UN has "warmly welcomed" the ceasefire call saying it "demonstrates the courage which Libya is in urgent need of during these trying times". Stephanie Williams, the acting head of the UN mission to Libya also called for "the rapid implementation of the two leaders' call for the resumption of oil production and export".
Oil exports have been blocked since January by Gen Haftar as a way of pressuring the UN-backed government by depriving it of revenue.
Egypt, a main backer of the eastern general, has also hailed the announcements "by both sides". President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said it was "an important step on the road to achieving a political settlement".
“This is positive,” said Tarek Megerisi, Libya specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “You don’t usually get good news from Libya. There is agreement between Sarraj and Aguila and support from Turkey and Egypt.”
Mr Megerisi argued that “this is not a game changer yet but positive in that we were expecting a war that would draw in Egypt and Turkey”.
Egypt, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and France have been General Haftar's main backers. Russia has sent mercenaries and the UAE has provided massive transfers of sophisticated weapons to aid the eastern strongman's offensive to seize Tripoli, the capital. This was launched in April last year, but collapsed after Turkey sent military support and Syrian mercenaries.
Mr Sisi had warned in June that Egypt was prepared to intervene militarily in Libya if the Turkish-backed GNA forces seized the coastal city of Sirte, a gateway to important oil installations now held by Gen Haftar.
In his ceasefire announcement, the GNA’s Mr Sarraj called for the demilitarisation of Sirte and of Juffra, a desert town in central Libya which has a strategic air base, saying it was necessary for the ceasefire to work. This averts the threat of Egyptian intervention and also observes what diplomats describe as a Russian red line.
The announcement also suggests there is an attempt to sideline Gen Haftar even by his backers. Mr Megerisi noted that the latest moves “empower Aguila Saleh against Haftar who is at the extreme end of the eastern camp”. He said that although the military strongman still had troops at his disposal, his power base was weakening with splits appearing as a result of the collapse of his military offensive to seize Tripoli.
“They are no longer united,” said Mr Megerisi. “There is a decline in support from the eastern tribes which form a big chunk of his forces.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020