Libya’s warring parties convene to agree ceasefire

Both sides in Libyan war send five senior officers to attend UN-brokered talks in hope of turning shaky truce into lasting peace.

GENEVA - The UN’s envoy to Libya says that warring parties have sent senior representatives to talks in Geneva in a first attempt to turn their shaky truce into a lasting ceasefire agreement.

The talks were proposed at a summit of world leaders in Berlin over two weeks ago, since which both sides have upped the intensity of fighting whilst repeatedly breaching the toothless 2011 UN arms embargo.

"The principle has been adopted from the first session. Now the question is what are the conditions," UN’s Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told reporters in Geneva.

Khalifa Haftar, the strongman general who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) in its fight against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), initially refused to attend talks, but has since sent five senior officers to meet with five from the government’s side in Geneva.

"We started yesterday to discuss with them... an attempt to transform the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side," said Salame.

The talks could last throughout the week, but the first day did not involve any face to face meetings.

"There is a genuine will for both parties to sit together and start negotiating together," he said.

"So far we had separate sessions for both parties but I'm sure the time will come for the two sides to sit together," he added.

Escalating violence

The GNA wants Haftar’s forces, backed by the UAE and receiving logistical assistance from Egypt, to return to the positions they held prior to an assault on Tripoli in April.

The LNA currently occupies positions south of the capital and the coastal town of Sirte, with plans for a fresh attempt at capturing Tripoli, where the GNA is based, currently stalled.

Meanwhile, Turkey passed a bill through parliament to send 2,000 fighters from Syria to oppose the LNA, in what many fear could signal a future for Libya similar to that of Syria, with foreign interference aggravating and extending the length of the conflict.

The success of the Geneva talks largely depends on whether foreign players such as the UAE and Turkey choose to continue backing their side in an attempt to gain influence over the oil-rich state, despite pressure from the UN.

At the summit in the German capital last month, world leaders committed to ending all foreign interference and to upholding a weapons embargo to help end the long-running civil war.

International disagreement makes it difficult for the UN to demand that the ceasefire is respected, but according to Salame, they are working on a resolution.

The EU has proposed providing monitoring assistance to ensure the ceasefire’s implementation, but it is up to those taking part in negotiations to accept or reject their help.

Salame said the two sides would meet for talks on economic cooperation in Cairo on February 9 and could hold political talks on resolving the conflict in Geneva in two weeks' time.

He also reiterated his calls for the international community to assist with the lifting of an oil blockade imposed by forces loyal to Haftar and to prevent the flow of arms and mercenaries into Libya.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with two rival administrations vying for power.