LIBYA: Glimmer of Hope On Talks As Fight For Sirte Heats Up

By Janet Ekstract

ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL) – On Monday, the United Nations in a formal statement, offered a glimmer of hope that political talks on Libya might resume. The UN reported that the acting head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams and the head of Libya’s High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri discussed the situation via video conference, addressing as they remarked: “possible ways to resume the political talks as per Berlin Conference conclusions.”  In addition, Williams briefed al-Mishri about her recent negotiations with Libyan parties and foreign stakeholders. Algeria also indicated its efforts to restart dialogue on Libya when Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced that Algeria is working on a solution as well.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) moved its fighters closer to Sirte with GNA military commanders reporting 200 vehicles moving east from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast toward the town of Tawergha – a third of the way to Sirte. The aim of the UN-backed GNA is to recapture the main oil terminals from warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA. Turkey has been instrumental in helping the GNA recapture a majority of strategic towns in northwest Libya that Haftar’s LNA had taken. The goal is to recapture Sirte and the airbase at Jufra, currently under LNA control.

Haftar’s most recent defeats in June put him in a precarious position which is precisely why Egypt’s president proposed a truce without GNA or UN support for several reasons – the first one being that it was quite clear that Egypt was only interested in bolstering its support for Haftar who is accused of war crimes in Tarhuna where mass graves were found. The second reason is that the UN and the EU reiterated the Libyan people must be involved in any political dialogue going forward so they can choose their own future for Libya.

Meanwhile, the UN made it clear that “foreign interference” in Libya need to end and that all those at the Berlin Conference were not honoring their commitments or the UN arms embargo either. Long before Turkey entered the conflict in Libya, foreign interference was present with the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Russia and France supporting warlord Khalifa Haftar. As Libya’s Prime Minister Fayyez al-Sarraj told the press months ago, the reason he turned to Turkey and its offer of military assistance is because the EU turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to what was going on in Libya. Basically, Haftar saw that he had carte blanche to run amok especially since neither the U.S. nor the EU were successful in convincing him otherwise.

Now, the moment of truth has finally arrived since the military buildup in and around Sirte is heating up even further since it is the gateway to the main oil terminals. Egypt made it clear that any entry into Sirte was considered a “red line” and Russia’s 2,000 fighters employed by the The Wagner Group remain a threat to any lasting peace. The U.S. reported that Russia sent warplanes to Jufra from Syria to support the mercenaries fighting with the LNA despite denials from Russia and the LNA. In the meantime, the LNA sent fighters and weapons to boost its defense of Sirte

On Saturday,  three EU nations took a tougher stance on the Libya issue when they issued a joint statement, saying they are “ready to consider” sanctions on foreign powers violating the arms embargo in Libya. French, Italian and German leaders who released the statement did not specifically identify any foreign actors sending arms to Libya. But, it is common knowledge that the UAE, Egypt and Russia have been supplying Haftar with advanced weaponry. The statement made it clear that foreign interference is fueling what many term as a ‘proxy war’ that involves a whole lot more complexities of geopolitical rifts and divisions in the Middle East as well as within NATO. The statement read in part: “We…urge all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council.” It further added: “We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions should breaches to the embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said they “look forward to the proposals the EU High Represenative/Vice President will make to this end.” The leaders urged “all Libyan parties and their foreign supporters for an immediate cessation of fighting and for a stop of the ongoing military buildup throughout the country.”

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