For now, though, the United Nations, which brokered the cease-fire, is hailing the pact as a “historic achievement.” The warring sides signed the agreement at a ceremony Friday in Geneva.
“The road to a permanent cease-fire deal was often long and difficult,” Stephanie Williams, the U.N. envoy to Libya, said at the ceremony, adding that “we have to give people hope of a better future.” She said she hopes the agreement will end “the suffering of Libyan people” and allow those displaced by the conflict “to return to their homes and live in peace and safety.”
While full details were not provided, Williams said the truce calls for fighters from both sides to pull back from front-line positions and return to their bases. More significantly, it calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces, especially from key players Turkey and Russia, and all mercenaries within three months. The deal, added Williams, will also allow tens of thousands of displaced people inside Libya, as well as refugees outside the country, to return to their homes.
But Williams, a former U.S. State Department official, conceded that mediators face “a lot of work to do in the days and weeks ahead to implement the commitments outlined in this agreement.”
Both sides are supported by a constellation of militias seeking power and wealth, as well as regional and Western powers that want to exert influence over the strategically important oil-producing country nestled along the Mediterranean Sea and in Europe’s backyard.
Over the past year, Libya has experienced its most violent era since the revolution, triggered by an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019 by renegade commander Khalifa Hifter, who is aligned with the eastern authorities. Militias in the west rose up to oppose Hifter and prevent the Tripoli government from falling.
The conflict drew in more than half a dozen foreign powers, which supplied weaponry, mercenaries and training to both sides in violation of an international arms embargo. The United Arab Emirates, Russia, Egypt and other powers backed Hifter. Turkey, Qatar and others entered to back the Tripoli government.
The lowering of tensions, amid international pressure, provided an opening for U.N.-sponsored mediators to resurrect talks to achieve a truce. This week marked the fourth round of talks between members of a joint military commission, which the United Nations hopes will eventually lead to national elections in Libya.
On Wednesday, Williams told reporters that the warring factions had reached agreements to open up air and land routes within the fractured nation, tone down harmful rhetoric and pave the way to fully resume Libyan oil production.
“This is a fundamental step toward peace & stability,” tweeted U.N. Secretary General António Guterres after the signing ceremony. “Too many people have suffered for too long. Too many men, women & children have died as a result of the conflict.”
Longtime diplomats and analysts working on Libya also took to social media and cautiously welcomed the agreement. But they warned that ultimately, peace in Libya lies in the hands of the foreign powers and the militias fueling the conflict.
Jonathan Winer, a former U.S. special envoy to Libya, tweeted that “confidence-building measures” are “essential to provide foundation for disarmament and return to normal conditions” after any civil conflict. “In #Libya, visible actions by foreigners to withdraw on balanced basis according to timetable [are] major element for further progress.”
Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, tweeted that the agreement made no reference to specific demilitarized zones and that the departure of mercenaries, including Russians and Syrians, within three months appears ambitious. So does a freeze, he added, on military training by foreign powers, which continue to send large shipments of weapons to Libya.
Still, “given 6 months ago there was a huge war and continuously record breaking casualty no’s,” the cease-fire “shouldn’t be sneered at,” tweeted Tarek Megerisi, a Libya analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “But we really shouldn’t let it give a false sense of security given how disingenuous those involved are. It’s still far easier to end up back at war than a real peace.”