Libya rivals sign ceasefire deal, but tough political talks loom

Libya’s warring sides signed a permanent ceasefire deal on Friday, but any lasting end to years of chaos and bloodshed will require wider agreement among myriad armed groups and the outside powers that support them.

Acting UN envoy Stephanie Williams said the ceasefire would start immediately, and that under the agreement all foreign fighters must quit Libya within three months, while a new joint police force would patrol disputed areas.

As a first commercial passenger flight in more than a year crossed front lines from Tripoli to land in the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday, Williams hailed both sides for reaching a deal.

“The road was long and difficult at times. Your patriotism was your way forward and you were able to reach a ceasefire agreement,” she said after the signing ceremony.

“We have to give people hope of a better future,” Williams added. She expressed hope the agreement will succeed “in ending the suffering of Libyans and allowing those displaced by the conflict to return to their homes.”

The latest talks come after the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in June beat back Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) following its 14-month assault on the capital.

A member of the troops loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government rides a military vehicle as he prepares before heading to Sirte, on the outskirts of Misrata, on July 18. (Ayman Sahely/Reuters)

Since then, front lines have stabilized west of the central coastal city of Sirte and eastern forces ended an eight-month blockade of Libyan oil output and exports that was strangling state finances on both sides.

More talks on way forward next month

Political talks between the two sides, which are made up of sometimes unstable coalitions of local interests, are due in Tunisia early next month.

However, many previous diplomatic efforts to resolve Libya’s internal conflict have run aground on the messy reality of a contest among many different groups since the 2011 ousting of Moammar Gadhafi.

“It’s a good continuation of the mood of progress, optimism and settlement,” said Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow with the North Africa and Middle East program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“But there is still no clear sign that Libyan belligerents are looking at this as anything other than a period of posturing and positioning to ensure they can dominate the next round of Libya’s transitional politics.”

Both sides have been backed with weapons and fighters by outside powers as the Libyan conflict has drawn in countries propelled by their own regional interests.

The GNA is supported by Turkey, while the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt back the LNA. The United Nations has urged all foreign parties to stop interfering in Libya and criticized their breach of an arms embargo.

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