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23.10.2020 Libya

Libya factions sign 'permanent' ceasefire

By Robin MILLARD
A fighter loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord trades fire with forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar in the capital Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara. The photo was taken in September last year.  By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP/File)
LISTEN OCT 23, 2020
A fighter loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord trades fire with forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar in the capital Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara. The photo was taken in September last year. By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP/File)

Libya's two rival factions signed a "permanent" ceasefire agreement Friday after five days of talks at the United Nations, which hailed the move as a moment that will go down in history.

"Today is a good day for the Libyan people," said Stephanie Williams, the UN's envoy to the troubled North African country, where a UN-recognised government in Tripoli has been battling a rival administration based in the east and dominated by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

"At 11:15 am (0915 GMT) this morning here at the UN headquarters in Geneva, the two Libyan delegations... signed a complete, countrywide and permanent ceasefire agreement with immediate effect," she said.

"The agreement was facilitated by the United Nations and we signed it as witnesses," she told a news conference in the Swiss city.

Libya has been wracked by conflict for nearly a decade, since the overthrow and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising.

Since then, the North African country has been dominated by armed groups, riven by local conflicts and divided between the two bitterly opposed adminstrations.

But hopes for a solution have risen after the two warring factions in August separately announced they would cease hostilities.

However, both sides continue to accuse each other of supporting "terrorist" groups.

The UN-sponsored talks took place in the format of a 5+5 Joint Military Commission: five delegates from each side attend.

'Historic achievement'

UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams described the ceasefire signing as UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams described the ceasefire signing as "a moment that will go down in history". By Fabrice COFFRINI (POOL/AFP)

The breakthrough was announced on Friday at a signing ceremony that was streamed live on the Facebook page of the UN's Libya mission.

"The 5+5 Joint Military Commission talks in Geneva today culminate in a historic achievement as Libyan teams reach a permanent ceasefire agreement across Libya," it said.

"This achievement is an important turning point towards peace and stability in Libya."

Delegates, wearing masks, stood before signing the agreement documents at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Williams said it was "a moment that will go down in history".

"You have met for the sake of Libya, for your people in order to take concrete steps to put an end to their suffering," she said.

"Nobody can love Libya as much as you do," said Williams, who heads the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

Since Kadhafi's ouster in 2011, rival power centres and a myriad of militias have vied for control of the country.

The capital Tripoli in the west is held by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, while a parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk is backed by Haftar's forces.

'Long and difficult road'

Haftar, supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019 but was pushed back early this year as pro-GNA forces received crucial support from Turkey.

Fighting has since stalled around the central coastal city of Sirte, Kadhafi's hometown.

On Tuesday, the second day of the talks, Williams had said that Libya's rival factions had agreed to maintain a lull in fighting and open internal land and air routes.

"What you have accomplished here is a crucial sign for Libya and the Libyan people," she said on Friday.

"I am hopeful that future generations of Libyans will consider today's agreement as a first, critical, courageous step to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Libyan crisis, that has gone on for too long."

Williams said there was a lot of work ahead in the coming weeks in order to implement the commitments but it was essential to do so as quickly as possible.

"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.

"I hope that this agreement will help put an end to the suffering of the Libyan people and we hope it will allow the displaced and refugees inside and outside the country to return to their homes and to live in peace and safety."

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