At the beginning of the week representatives of the Libyan rival military factions came together in Geneva to discuss the possibility of a lasting cease-fire in UN-sponsored talks. Ghassan Salamé, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, has said that “both sides have come to Geneva and we have started talks in an attempt to turn the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side. There is a clear willingness and genuine will to sit together and start negotiating.”
GNA and NLA
Libya has been descending into chaos since 2011 after its leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was killed by a NATO-backed uprising. Since then then two rival military factions have been fighting for power over the country. On one side stands the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is led by prime-minister Fayez al-Sarraj and recognized by the UN, and on the other side stand the forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) lead by military commander Khalifa
Even though the situation in Libya has been tumultuous since 2011, one of the highest levels of violence came last April when Haftar’s LNA launched an all-out assault on the Tripoli-based GNA. The Benghazi-based LNA is financially backed by Saudi-Arabia who offered tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation. They also receive military assistance from Russia and France and logistical help from Egypt. France supports the GNA because it believes that Haftar will be more effective than prime-minister al-Sarraj in countering terrorism once he holds power. The GNA is supported by Turkey in an attempt to expand its margin of Arab allies, as well as Italy. With France and Italy supporting opposite sides, a clear fractionalization within the EU can be observed. France and Italy’s contributions so far have been very disruptive and undermines any attempt by the European Union to come up with a cohesive solution. For example during the offensive on Tripoli, Haftar shut down oil ports and imposed a no-fly zone over Tripoli which cut of Tripoli’s lifeline. The US and the EU immediately attempted to adopt a resolution condemning Haftar for his actions but it was blocked by France. As of today, the NLA holds most of the territory in the country but it has not managed to take Tripoli from the GNA.
Not only fractionalization is a problem, but it has come to light that France, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and the UAE have violated the arms embargo the UN imposed on Libya in 2011. Salamé has heavily condemned this violation during the Geneva talks. Several attempts have been made to solve the problem with the violation of the arms embargo and the conflict between the GNA and NLA in general, most recently this month.
In early January 2020, Turkey and Russia decided to make use of the diplomatic void that was left by EU and the UN’s inability to come up with a solution by calling for a cease-fire together on the 11th of January. This cease-fire however did not take hold and internationally backed fighting continued. In an attempt to curb international interference and create more respect for the arms embargo, Germany called for world leaders to come together on the 19th of January at the Berlin Summit to discuss the situation and possible solutions. The summit ended with world leaders calling for a permanent ceasefire, the upholding of the arms embargo, the dismantling of militias and the resumption of the political process under the UN support mission in Libya. Nevertheless, the Berlin summit itself is widely regarded as a failure not only because the UN does not possess the means on the ground to actually enforce the agreements made, but also because fighting has increased even more since then.
However, the Geneva talks were also first proposed during this summit and actually mark the first time that both parties are actively participating and have shown willingness to come to a solution together. The talks are held between five senior officers appointed by the GNA and five senior officers appointed by the LNA. The fact that both parties are present and negotiating shows that they are both in principle interested in a cease-fire agreement but the success of one will largely depend on whether or not the external actors decide to stop providing them with support. Salamé has said that the UN security council is working on a resolution that demands the cease-fire to be respected but the international division is making such an agreement difficult.
Sources: TRTWorlds, UN News, The Guardian, Aljazeera 1 / Aljazeera 2 / Aljazeera 3 / Aljazeera 4, Middle East Eye 1 / Middle East Eye 2, BBC News 1 / BBC News 2 / BBC News 3, AL Monitor, Ahval News, 24 News, AP News 1 / AP News 2, Swiss Info, The New York Times, Het Parool.
Photo Ghassan Salamé: Wikimedia