Libya ceasefire talks may just buy time for renewed war – Arab Weekly

While an announcement by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) that rival parties involved in the Libyan conflict have agreed to return to permanent ceasefire talks has raised cautious optimism about the prospects of ending the war, the talks could just be a tactic by the warring sides to buy time to regroup and renew hostilities, Mona El-Mahrouki said, writing in the Arab Weekly.

The agreement by the Libyan rivals to return to ceasefire talks came after a series of recent military gains won by the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, in its fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is led by rebel general Khalifa Haftar and backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, among others. 

But the agreement has been tempered by ongoing military mobilisation by both Turkish and Russian-backed sides, with speculation that the real aim of the warring parties could be to buy more time to reverse the military situation on the ground and to circumvent pressure from the international community to steer the conflict away from Russian and Turkish control, El-Mahrouki said. 

The ceasefire negotiations of the 5+5 committee - comprised of ten military leaders, with five representing the LNA and five from the GNA - started at the end of February, and two rounds of negotiations took place before they stopped in March. 

The committee is expected to continue discussions on a draft agreement previously presented by the U.N. mission to rival parties.

The LNA is calling for Turkey to withdraw from the conflict and for the GNA to rein in the growing influence of allied militias and the proliferation of weapons, El-Mahrouki said. 

The GNA’s conditions included the return of the LNA to its positions before April 4, 2019 - when the LNA launched its offensive to capture Tripoli - and the exclusion of Haftar from any peace settlement. 

On Thursday, al-Sarraj said there would be no negotiations with Haftar, following a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara to discuss the latest developments in Libya and consolidate recent gains on the battlefield ahead of a new round of talks on a potential ceasefire. 

“We will not give (Haftar) the opportunity to negotiate in the coming process. We will continue our fight until we completely eliminate the enemy,” BBC Turkish quoted Sarraj as saying, as he called Haftar a “war criminal,” and his self-styled LNA “illegitimate forces.”

On Tuesday, the Turkish National Security Council, the main body coordinating the country's security and military policies, reiterated Turkey’s intent to continue intervening in Libya to support the GNA, the Arab Weekly said. 

"We will continue providing military advice to the legitimate government of Libya for the purpose of establishing peace and stability," a statement issued by the council said.

Ankara has sent a number of Turkish military personnel and thousands of mercenaries from Syria to Libya to fight alongside the GNA’s forces, and it has also provided the GNA with military equipment, including drones which have played a crucial role in recent battles. 

Al-Sarraj's visit to Ankara on Thursday came after a flurry of diplomacy on Wednesday, as al-Sarraj's deputy Ahmed Maiteeq and the GNA’s foreign minister Mohamed Siyala travelled to Moscow, while his rival Haftar was in Egypt to meet defence officials.

In another piece for the Arab Weekly, El-Mahrouki said there had been speculation that Maiteeq and Siyala’s trip to Moscow was to persuade Russia to abandon its the goal of establishing a base in central or eastern Libya by offering it economic incentives. 

There are concerns that Russia could use the Turkish intervention as an excuse to establish a permanent presence in Libya, the Arab Weekly said. Recent reports suggested that Moscow had sent fighter jets to bolster the LNA after its recent losses on the battlefield. 

An unnamed Libyan source told El-Mahrouki that the upcoming talks were unlikely to be successful, and that the competing sides were only participating to give the appearance that they are flexible and open to a peaceful solution, but in reality they are preparing to continue to fight. 

The source said they expected the LNA to attempt to recapture territory lost to the GNA in May, such as the al-Watiya air base, as well to attempt to re-establish a foothold on the coastline. 

Libya has been without a central government since 2011, with towns and cities controlled by factions fighting for rival governments in the east and west since 2014.

Previous attempts by Russia and Turkey to broker a ceasefire in Libya failed in January when Haftar refused to accept the terms and pressed ahead with his offensive to capture Tripoli.

Turkey is also eager to secure a controversial maritime border demarcation agreement it signed with the GNA that expanded its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the eastern Mediterranean to support its hydrocarbon drilling projects. Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez said last week his country may begin oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean this summer under the deals signed with Libya.

In its statement on Tuesday, Turkey’s National Security Council reiterated its commitment to hydrocarbon drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean despite the objections of Greece, Cyprus and other countries in the region.

"We have also discussed the stances of nations that are hostile to our to our legitimate activities in the Mediterranean and stressed our determination to continue protecting our interests at land, air and sea, without any concessions," the council said.

On Wednesday, the French presidency expressed its “deep concern” over the situation in Libya, fearing an agreement between Turkey and Russia that “serves their interests” at Libya’s expense.

A statement issued by the Office of the French President stressed that “the complexity of the Libyan crisis is being compounded by foreign intervention,” – referring to Russia and Turkey - and warned of the “danger of having the crisis get out of everyone’s hands.”

Yet, France is not a dispassionate observer in the process, and NATO countries are divided about how to engage with Libya. Turkey and the United States support the Tripoli-based GNA, while France and Greece support the LNA.

Ties between France and the UAE - which also backs the LNA - were bolstered on June 3 following a virtual Strategic Dialogue session that discussed a roadmap for the two countries’ partnership over the next decade, the Arab Weekly said. 

The meeting also involved discussions on key sectors of bilateral cooperation, such as economy, trade and investment, oil and gas, nuclear and renewable energy, education, culture, health, space and security - with both countries expressing a shared interest in the inclusive and economic development of countries in Africa and the Middle East.