Finally, good news about Libya. During a 48-hour meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva, military representatives of the two opposing parties agreed to open air and land routes. Last Friday there was already a good warning sign when flights were resumed between Tripoli, the capital located in the west, and Benghazi, the main city in the east.
The air connection had been suspended for 18 months, since Marshal Khalifa Hafter, 76, a strongman from the east, attempted to conquer Tripoli in April 2019. Hafter was forced to withdraw in June after a 14-month unsuccessful siege. Since then, there have hardly been any confrontations. But the swords remained high. And so they remain. Each faction with their drones, their anti-aircraft batteries and their mercenaries ready to act.
In Tripoli there is the Government of National Accord (GAN), the only one recognized by the international community, and the headquarters of the National Oil Company (NOC), the only one authorized to export oil, which generates 95% of tax revenues. Tripoli has only the military support of Turkey. For its part, Benghazi, whose most visible representative is Marshal Hafter, is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and occasionally France.
The UN, which has suffered so many setbacks in Libya since it tried to forge peace between the parties in 2015, remains the great driving force behind the peace negotiations. Its special representative to Libya, Stephanie Williams, announced this Wednesday in Geneva that the so-called 5 + 5 Joint Military Commission, which includes five members from each Libyan side, agreed to open all the roads connecting the cities and regions.
The opening will be especially important for the south of the country, an area “traditionally marginalized and deprived of basic services, such as fuel delivery and cash,” according to Williams. The arrival of flights to Seba, the southern administrative capital, will also be very beneficial.
These agreements have been in the making since the UN and German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched the Berlin Conference in January, where the main heads of state with influence over Libya met to promote peace. There, the idea of structuring the negotiations in three fields was born: economic, political and security. The latter would be undertaken by the so-called 5 + 5 Joint Military Commission, which has met since February up to four times in Geneva. It took eight long months for the talks to bear fruit. The UN representative was optimistic on Wednesday about a possible signing of a permanent ceasefire.
Another of the agreements reached by the Joint Military Commission is to promote a restructuring of the guard in charge of guarding the oil installations. The country produced 1.8 million oil during the Muammar Gaddafi dictatorship. In the last year, despite the fighting, it exported 1.2 million. But Marshal Hafter decided to block this industry from January 17 of this year and only agreed to partially lift the blockade as of September 18. Right now, the industry is trying to regain its rhythm, which during the eight months of the blockade only reached 100,000 barrels a day.
The six million inhabitants of Libya have suffered for several years not only the problems inherent in any war, but also those of corruption, public insecurity, and power and water cuts. In recent months there have been protests by citizens in both the west and east of the country. Most of them were harshly repressed.
Analyst Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, believes that in order to reach the agreements this Wednesday, the dialogue between Turkey and Russia has been key, “two countries that are not friends but are very clear about what they want. However, Harchaoui is more “circumspect” than “optimistic.” “The fact that we have been without direct confrontations for five months does not mean much,” he says. “The forces continue to move on the ground. The Turks strengthen their military presence. And the Russian mercenaries control several oil fields, which did not happen six months ago.
The objective of the UN, according to Harchaoui, will be to form a true government of national unity that integrates both parties. “There will surely be a proturkish interior minister in Tripoli. And a vice minister, or similar figure, anti-Turkish in Benghazi. It will be possible? Will there be a strong politician in Tripoli who cannot set foot in Benghazi and another in Benghazi who cannot set foot in the capital? I do not know. Nor should we forget that there are divisions and conflicts within each faction ”.
For his part, Michaël Tanchum, professor of International Relations at the University of Navarra, points out: “Citizen protests in both parties must be taken into account. No solution will work without a unity government more responsible for the daily needs of Libyans. “