Libya’s Two Main Factions Agree to a Cease-Fire

GENEVA – Libya’s two main warring parties agreed on a ceasefire on Friday and hope to end the years of bloody turmoil that have attracted armed forces from Russia, Turkey and other regional powers.

The two sides signed the agreement at the United Nations in Geneva at the end of a week-long meeting of delegates from the internationally recognized government of the National Agreement, based in the capital Tripoli, and the self-appointed Libyan National Army under the leadership of Khalifa Hifter and based in the east of the country.

The two sides reached a full, statewide and permanent agreement effective immediately, said Stephanie Williams, the acting special envoy for the United Nations who chaired the recent talks. She said it is calling on frontline forces to return to their bases and withdraw all foreign forces and mercenaries within three months.

“If God wills, this will be the key to peace and security throughout Libya,” said Colonel Abu Ali Abushama, head of the government delegation, at the signing ceremony.

Libya has a long history of failed peace initiatives and the response of the foreign sponsors who fueled the longstanding war on both sides of the conflict will be critical to the success of the ceasefire.

Former UN envoy Ghassan Salame quit his job earlier this year, in part out of anger over the failure of the international community to meaningfully support peace efforts in Libya.

Mr Salame voiced his disillusionment with the open interference of some Libyan countries such as Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the failure of Western countries such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom to effectively counteract such interference.

The latest deal comes four months after Mr Hifter’s armed forces were forced to humiliatingly withdraw from their positions in the capital, Tripoli, which they launched a bitter 15-month campaign to capture. Although the attack failed, it drew powerful foreign actors deeper and deeper into the war for control of the oil-rich North African nation.

For months, both sides have been in a tense dispute over Surt in central Libya, where the country’s long-time dictator, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, was born in 2011 and died violently. Surt is the gateway to a region known as the Oil Crescent, where most of Libyan oil production takes place.

Mr Hifter halted most oil production in January to starve the Tripoli government for money. In the past few weeks, however, production has risen sharply to 300,000 barrels per day as it was widely expected that the blockade would be lifted.

Although Mr. Hifter remains the leader of a powerful military coalition, his political strength has steadily declined since his forces were driven from Tripoli in June. In his homeland in eastern Libya, other powerful political actors have emerged in recent months who have come close to some of Mr. Hifter’s foreign allies, particularly Egypt.

In his first interview after retiring from the envoy job, Mr Salame accused the UN Security Council of hypocrisy, saying the majority of its members initially supported Mr Hifter’s attack on Tripoli and actively obstructed his own peace efforts.

Mr Salame said he was “stabbed in the back” by the same countries in an interview with The Mediator’s Studio, a podcast by the Oslo Forum, an organization that promotes conflict mediation.

Describing the deal reached on Friday, Ms. Williams praised the delegates’ courage, commitment and professionalism in drawing up the agreement as “a moment that will go down in history”.

She said this is also an exceptional example for Libyan politicians now facing the challenge of turning the ceasefire into a broader political settlement.

Nick Cumming-Bruce reported from Geneva and Declan Walsh from Nairobi, Kenya.