Libyan government announces ceasefire and calls for elections

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Libya’s UN-backed government announced a ceasefire in the oil-rich country on Friday and called for the demilitarization of the strategic city of Sirte, which is controlled by rival forces.

In a separate statement, Aguila Saleh, speaker of the rival eastern-based House of Representatives, also called for a ceasefire. The announcements came amid fears of an escalation in the more than nine-year-old conflict.

Fayez Sarraj, head of the government of national accord in the capital, also announced that legislative and presidential elections would be held in March.

The two administrations have said they want to end the oil blockade imposed by the camp of military commander Khalifa Haftar since the beginning of this year. Haftar is an ally of the speaker of parliament. They also called for oil revenues, the country’s main source of income, to be paid into the National Oil Corporation’s bank account outside Libya.

Powerful eastern Libyan tribesmen loyal to Haftar shut down oil export terminals and choked off major pipelines earlier this year in a bid to pressure the Tripoli-based government.

Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord, said legislative and presidential elections would be held in March. (AFP/Getty Images)

The developments come amid international pressure from both sides and fears of a further escalation in the chaotic proxy war, as rivals rally for a battle over Sirte, the gateway to major export terminals of oil in the country.

Both statements called for the demilitarization of the city of Sirte and the Jufra region in central Libya, and for a joint police force responsible for security there.

There was no immediate comment from Haftar’s army, but Haftar agreed to an Egyptian initiative in June that included a ceasefire.

UN reaction

The UN Support Mission in Libya welcomed both statements and called for the expulsion of all foreign and mercenary forces in Libya. Both parties to the conflict are supported by thousands of mercenaries.

“Both initiatives have created hope for forging a peaceful political solution to the long-standing Libyan crisis, one that will affirm the Libyan people’s desire to live in peace and dignity,” said Stephanie Williams, acting leader of the UN mission.

Libya was thrown into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations based in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Libya was thrown into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The nation has since split between rival administrations based in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images)

The chaos got worse

Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 in an attempt to capture Tripoli. But his campaign collapsed in June when Tripoli-allied militias, with the backing of Turkey, took over, driving his forces from the outskirts of Tripoli and other western cities.

Chaos in the oil-rich country has worsened in recent months as foreign donors increasingly intervene, despite promises to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.

Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Turkey, a bitter rival to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in a wider regional fight against political Islam, is the main boss of Tripoli’s forces, which are also backed by wealthy Gulf state Qatar.

Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli has deeply polarized the already divided country and derailed UN efforts to hold a peace conference more than a year ago.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hailed the two statements on Twitter as “an important step on the road to achieving political settlement”.

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