Will Egypt-Hosted Military Talks Deescalate Libyan Conflict?
Military and police teams from Libya’s warring rivals held UN-brokered security talks in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Hurghada this week. The talks came amid international pressure on the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar and their regional backers to avert an attack on the oil-rich city of Sirte.
What Did the Two Sides Agree On?
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said a host of recommendations have been reached during the discussions to be presented to UN-brokered military talks in Geneva next week. This includes the release of all prisoners captured during military operations before the end of October and a halt of all hate speech campaigns.
The two sides also agreed to expedite the re-opening of air traffic and land transportation lines across all Libyan cities to ensure freedom of movement for all citizens. The talks also tackled the tasks and responsibilities of the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) in order to ensure uninterrupted oil production. UNSMIL said the two Libyan sides have demonstrated “a positive and proactive attitude aimed at de-escalation of the situation in central Libya.”
Efforts to Counteract Turkey’s Increased Intervention in Libya
The Hurghada talks were part of international efforts to reduce Turkey’s increasing military intervention in the Libyan conflict, which has irked several regional players, including Libya’s next-door neighbor Egypt.
“The Libyans reject Turkey’s blatant interference in the Libyan affairs and we are looking for solutions to unify the Libyan military establishment,” Major-General Khaled Mahjoub, the head of LNA mobilization department, said. “There is an agreement to disarm the militias and maintain the weapons in the hands of the Libyan army only,” he said.
The Pentagon estimates that Turkey has sent at least 5,000 Syrian mercenaries to Libya to fight on the side of the GNA. However, according to Mahjoub, Turkey-backed foreign mercenaries have already begun to leave Libya. “Around 3,000 mercenaries have left the country recently,” he said.
Libya’s Civil War
Libya plunged into civil war in 2011 after a NATO-backed uprising led to the ouster and subsequent killing of strongman Muammar Gaddafi, with two rival administrations emerging in Tripoli and the eastern city of Tobruk.
The situation escalated last year when Turkey signed controversial maritime and security agreements with the GNA, in response to a military offensive launched by Haftar on the capital Tripoli. The Turkish military support to the GNA helped it tip the balance of war in its favor, forcing Haftar’s LNA to retreat to Sirte.
The Turkish military intervention, however, has prompted Egypt to threaten to militarily intervene in the Libyan conflict. The Egyptian threat has forced the Turkey-backed GNA forces to halt their advance towards Sirte amid a military build-up on the frontlines.
As a result of the threat, intensive diplomatic efforts began to intensify in an attempt to avert an escalation of the military situation on the ground and push the warring rivals to reach a political settlement to their conflict. These efforts resulted in mutual ceasefire announcements by GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Speaker of the Tobruk-based Parliament Aguila Saleh.
The Bouznika Talks
As the situation on the ground remained precarious, delegations from the two rival administrations held UN-brokered talks in the Moroccan city of Bouznika to explore ways of de-escalating the situation and reaching a roadmap for elections. The two rivals plan to start a second round of the talks this week.
In a move that helped to ease tension, Haftar announced on Sept. 18 the resumption of oil production and exports on condition that the revenues are fairly distributed among the three Libyan regions and not used with the aim of funding militias or in operations marred by corruption.
An agreement was also concluded with the GNA to form a committee tasked with overseeing the distribution of oil revenues and their proper use until the end of the current year, as well as to unify the exchange rate, open lines of credits in banks and carry out bank clearing operations away from any kind of discrimination.
The Egyptian government, which backs Haftar, also invited the strongman and his ally Saleh to Cairo in a move aimed to build on efforts to reach a political settlement to the conflict in Libya. “Egypt seeks to avoid an escalation of the military situation and grant all Libyan parties the opportunity to reach a Libyan-Libyan peaceful solution,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said.
In June, Egypt proposed an initiative to solve the crisis in Libya following the GNA military gains on the ground. This initiative called for a ceasefire, respect of an arms embargo on Libya and working towards a political settlement in the war-torn country. This initiative, however, was quickly rejected with the GNA and its backer Turkey.
With international involvement, the situation in Libya has stopped from escalating for now. But the question now remains about how far the foreign backers, particularly Turkey, are willing to help deescalate the situation and reach a permanent settlement to the conflict in the oil-rich country.