The UN-backed Libyan government has announced an oil-rich nationwide ceasefire and called for the demilitarization of the strategic city of Sirte, which is controlled by rival forces.
In a separate statement, Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the rival House of Representatives in the east, also called for a ceasefire. The announcements came amid fears of an escalation in the more than nine-year-old conflict.
Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the government of national accord in the capital, Tripoli, also announced that legislative and presidential elections would be held in March.
Both administrations have said they want an end to the oil blockade imposed by the camp of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar since the start of the year. Haftar is an ally of the speaker. They also demanded that oil revenues, the country’s main source of income, be paid into the National Oil Corporation’s bank account outside Libya.
Powerful tribes in eastern Libya loyal to Haftar closed oil export terminals and strangled major pipelines earlier this year in order to put pressure on the Tripoli-based government.
The developments come amid international pressure from both sides and fears of a further escalation in chaotic proxy warfare, as rivals rally for a battle over Sirte, the gateway to major export terminals of the country’s oil.
Both statements called for the demilitarization of Sirte and the Jufra region in central Libya, and for a joint security police force there. There was no immediate comment from Haftar’s army. The general had agreed on an Egyptian initiative in June that included a ceasefire.
The UN support mission in Libya welcomed the two 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 the hope of forging a peaceful political solution to the long-standing Libyan crisis, a solution that will affirm the desire of the Libyan people to live in peace and dignity,” said Stephanie Williams, interim leader. of the UN mission.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since been divided between rival administrations based in the east and the west, each supported by armed groups and foreign governments.
Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 in an attempt to capture Tripoli. But the campaign collapsed in June when allied militias in Tripoli, with Turkish backing, gained the upper hand, driving its forces from the outskirts of the capital and other western towns.
Chaos in the oil-rich country has worsened in recent months as foreign donors intervene, despite promises to the contrary at a high-level peace summit in Berlin 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 broader regional struggle against political Islam, is the main patron of the forces in Tripoli, which are also backed by Qatar.
Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli polarized the already divided country and led to the failure of UN efforts to hold a peace conference more than a year ago.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi hailed the two statements on Twitter as “an important step on the road to a political settlement.”