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Cairo pushes for military agreements in Libya

Following talks in the Egyptian city of Hurghada, Egypt is supporting Libya’s warring sides as they discuss how to dismantle the militias and unify Libya’s military institutions.
Fighters loyal to the UN-recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) secure the area of Abu Qurain, half-way between the capital Tripoli and Libya's second city Benghazi, against forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Benghazi, on July 20, 2020. - Since 2015, a power struggle has pitted the (GNA) against forces loyal to Haftar. The strongman is mainly supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, while Turkey backs the GNA. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP) (Photo by MAHMU

Cairo is currently working to find a solution to the presence of armed militias in Libya and ways to unify the military institutions and resolve the military conflict

On Sept. 27, the Egyptian city of Hurghada hosted military talks between representatives of the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), to discuss ways to unify the military institutions and deal with militias.

The Libyan parties agreed at the conclusion of the talks Sept. 29 to form a military body that includes all Libyan parties and to establish a rapid intervention force to protect the Libyan government headquarters and oil facilities. They also agreed to distribute military control equally among the three Libyan regions as part of plans to integrate Libyan fighters in a unified military institution, restructure the various security services and dissolve the militias.

Maj. Gen. Khaled Mahjoub, director of mobilization for the LNA, said in a Sept. 28 television interview, “An agreement was reached on several points during the Hurghada talks, most importantly on the unification of the armed forces under the banner of the General Command of the Libyan Army.”

Mahjoub said, “The discussions also focused on the dismantlement of the militias, the inclusion of beneficial elements into the Libyan army and the exclusion of criminal or terrorist ones. It was agreed that weapons will be limited to the Libyan army.”

He added, “A practical program was developed for the implementation of the understandings and agreements between the Libyan parties.”

The Hurghada talks were widely welcomed by the United States, with the US Embassy in Libya tweeting Sept. 29, “Ambassador [Richard] Norland: ‘Egypt talks are a sign the UN-facilitated process is working.’”

On Oct. 5, Norland visited Cairo, where he met with the director of Egyptian intelligence, Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel. The two discussed the outcomes of the Hurghada talks and the Egyptian efforts to unify the Libyan institutions. Norland described the meeting as “fruitful.”

Norland also met with the speaker of the Tobruk-based Libyan Parliament, Aguila Saleh. The two parties agreed on the need to expel foreign fighters and Turkish military advisers from Libya, dismantle the militias and form a unified security apparatus.

In an Oct. 7 interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Akhbar, Norland said, “We are happy with the outcome of the Hurghada talks, as an important step toward de-escalation and activating the cease-fire in Libya.”

Norland went on, “On the agenda as well, there is a need to support the efforts led by the Libyans to round up the militias across the country and disarm them. It is difficult to achieve that unless through a united and strong Libyan security [apparatus].”

He said, “Egypt has helped expand the political dialogue between the west and the east in Libya and is still playing an important role. This is why I visited Cairo to consult on the best ways to support the Libyan political dialogue forum and the next steps toward a permanent political settlement to the war and conflict in Libya.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations is to host intra-Libyan political and military talks in Geneva on Oct. 19. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in an Oct. 10 press statement, “One hundred Libyan figures will attend the forum, including supporters of the [former Moammar] Gadhafi regime.” 

She said, “The invitees are trusted politicians and public figures from the three Libyan regions, with the aim to draft agreements on establishing a unified transitional authority for Libya,” adding, “The recent talks in Hurghada between security representatives of the two conflicting parties is a good basis to resume the work of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission.”

The 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission was formed following the Jan. 19 Berlin Conference on Libya, where it was agreed to select five officers from the LNA and five from the GNA to conduct negotiations.

Ali Saidi, a member of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, told Al-Monitor, “Cairo is striving to end the Libyan crisis and achieve stability in the country.”

Saidi added, “The LNA’s representatives agreed at the Hurghada talks on the inclusion of members of the armed groups, but under some conditions, namely that they be medically fit and hold a clear criminal record, in order to achieve Cairo’s goal of unifying the Libyan military establishment.”

He said, “It was agreed to unify the military institution [and] to include elements from the three regions of Libya, namely Cyrenaica, Fezzan and Tripoli.”

Saidi went on, “The GNA military team taking part in the negotiations does not have the ability to control the armed militias. This could be the main obstacle to the implementation of the agreements reached by the military parties in Hurghada.”

Tarek Fahmy, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “Cairo stirred up the stagnant water in the Libyan military file. The Hurghada talks are the first military agreement between the Libyan parties.”

Fahmy added, “The Hurghada talks have received international and US support. The international community has faith that a successful military track in Libya is a real guarantee for the success of the political track.”

He said, “The US ambassador to Libya visited Cairo after the end of the Hurghada talks to affirm the US support for the results of the talks and the agreement to dismantle the militias.”

He pointed out, “The Libyan army did not agree to include terrorist elements from the militias in western Libya, contrary to the GNA and Turkish desires. The Egyptians also refused to include terrorist elements who have a criminal record within the ranks of the Libyan army.”

He continued, “The international community and the US are working toward eliminating the militias and preparing a black list of terrorists, while leaving the opportunity for other elements to join the Libyan army in order to unify the military establishment and ensure that the military conflict is not renewed.” 

“Cairo will depend on US and European support in implementing the outcomes of the Hurghada talks to resolve the militia crisis in Libya,” Fahmy concluded.

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