Libya’s rival sides reached a first agreement on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the North African nation, says the UN. It is an important step towards uniting the country plagued by violence.
The dispute over mercenaries and foreign fighters has long been an obstacle, especially ahead of Libya’s general elections in December.
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising overthrew longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was divided for years between rival governments – one based in the capital Tripoli and the other in the eastern part of the country. . Each side is supported by various foreign powers and militia groups.
The UN mission, which mediates between rivals, said a ten-member joint military commission, with five representatives from each side, signed a “gradual and balanced” withdrawal agreement on Friday, at the end of three-day talks facilitated by the UN in Geneva.
The plan would be “the cornerstone of the gradual, balanced and sequenced withdrawal process” of mercenaries and foreign forces, the mission said.
Jan Kubis, the UN Special Envoy for Libya, welcomed the move as “another breakthrough.”
Libya’s split came at the forefront in 2019, when Putist general Khalifa Haftar, allied with the East-based administration, launched an offensive to take Tripoli from the UN-backed government in the country’s capital.
Haftar was supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France. But his 14-month campaign and march against Tripoli ultimately failed in June 2020, after Turkey sent troops to help the UN-backed administration, which also had the support of Qatar and Italy.
After the fighting was largely at a standstill, subsequent UN peace talks followed a ceasefire in October last year and the establishment of an interim government that is expected to lead the country into elections in December. The armistice agreement also included departure from foreign forces and mercenaries within three months — something that was never implemented.
Friday’s business “creates a positive momentum that should be built on to move towards a stable and democratic stage, among other things by holding free, credible and transparent national elections on December 24, with results accepted by all,” said Kubis.
The sides said they would now return to discuss this with their supporter base and worried international parties “to support the implementation of this plan and respect for Libya’s sovereignty.”
The deal also required UN observers to be monitored to monitor the ceasefire before implementing the withdrawal plan.
In December, an estimated UN envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, estimated that there had been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya in recent years, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese and Chadians.
Although the mercenary agreement is seen as a step forward, earlier this month, Libyan lawmakers in the east took a step back in the peace process by voting to reschedule the January parliamentary elections, a month later.
It was not immediately clear how the legislators’ decision would lead to a postponement of the vote.