Libya’s rival sides meet in Tunis to discuss Libya's political future

Talks aim to lay the groundwork for a unity government in hope of eventually ending Libya's decadelong war.

al-monitor Libyan delegates, including (L-R) Abdessalam Shuha, Abdallah Shibani, Hussein Mohamed Elansari, an unidentified participant and Abdel Majid Mlayqtah attend the opening of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum hosted in Gammarth on the outskirts of Tunisia's capital, on Nov. 9, 2020. Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images.

Nov 9, 2020

Political representatives of Libya’s opposing sides initiated talks in Tunisia on Monday in the hope of achieving a cooperation agreement on national elections to eventually bring about a resolution to the country’s conflict.

Seventy-five delegates attended the meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, aimed at establishing a unity government in the war-torn country.

Acting UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams called for “a clear road map” toward establishing elections as soon as possible. Tunisia’s President Kais Saied called the opening of the talks a “historic moment.”

“You have the opportunity to end a tragic conflict,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an opening video address. “Now it’s your turn to shape the future of your country.”

The talks at Gammarth, outside the capital, Tunis, aim to build on a de-facto cease-fire announced by the two sides in August and signed with UN support in October.

UN officials pushed for talks to seize the opportunity presented by the stalemate, which came after eastern Libya’s Gen. Khalifa Hifter failed to capture the western capital, Tripoli, in a 14-month offensive.

The rival governments have reached a number of trust-building steps in recent months. Libya’s Civil Aviation Authority said last week it would allow civilian air travel in the country’s south to resume, following UN-sponsored talks between the two sides’ Joint Military Commission in Ghadames, southwest of Tripoli.

The Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC) on Friday announced the country had reached the landmark production level of 1 million barrels per day, the most since Hifter initiated an oil blockade in January. The NOC called the benchmark a “huge achievement” but noted the production level may not be sustained.

NOC chairman Mustafa Sanallah said last month that the body hopes to return to pre-war production levels of 1.3 million barrels per day by January.

Hifter’s forces and Russia’s Wagner Group paramilitary fighters withdrew from oil fields over the past several weeks. In return for Hifter lifting the blockade in September, the NOC lifted its force majeure on certain facilities.

But the two sides have not yet worked out how to share oil revenues via the Central Bank in Tripoli, a major next step toward sustaining peace.

The future of foreign forces in Libya also remains unclear. Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have all been accused of introducing weapons and mercenaries into the conflict in violation of the UN arms embargo on Libya.

The Oct. 23 “permanent cease-fire” agreement called on foreign forces to depart the North African country within 90 days, but the joint military talks at Ghadames last week focused on pulling foreign fighters back from frontlines instead, according to a readout of the recommendations reached by the commission.

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