The two sides of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC) signed a permanent ceasefire agreement in Geneva last Sunday, spurring hopes of reviving the stalled political process and ending years of civil war. As the international community welcomed the agreement, Libyans felt a wave of optimism and relief, albeit tempered with caution and appeals to international stakeholders to ensure all parties remain committed to implementing the provisions of the agreement.
The agreement struck by the 5+5 Commission (which is made up of five officers from the Libyan National Army and five officers from the forces fighting for the Government of National Accord — GNA) coincided with the ninth anniversary of Libyan liberation from the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi, which was achieved with the aid of NATO military intervention.
The coincidence came as a surprise to observers since, according to the agenda, the activities of the commission were due to conclude the following day.
The ceasefire agreement, a copy of which was obtained by Al-Ahram Weekly, consists of a number of general principles followed by the terms of the agreement in 12 points. The principles emphasise the territorial integrity and unity of Libya and the need to refrain from rendering the national decision-making and resources of the country hostage to any external power. They also state that combating terrorism must remain a common national policy pursued by all state institutions and underscore the need to respect human rights and the rules of international humanitarian law.
The most salient terms of the agreement call for the withdrawal of all military units and armed groups from all confrontation lines, for the departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libyan territories within 90 days, and for the suspension of military agreements on training and the departure of training crews until a new unified government assumes its functions.
The agreement establishes a Security Operations Room to propose and implement special arrangements to secure the areas cleared of military units and armed groups and deter expected violations. The resources necessary for this operation are to be provided by all parties.
The agreement also adopts the six proposals announced by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) following the JMC meeting in Hurghada on 28-29 September. A major purpose of these proposals is “to secure the safe passage of civilians, supply convoys and humanitarian organisations”.
The US, the UK, France, Russia, Italy, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Qatar issued statements wholeheartedly supporting the ceasefire agreement. The UN, EU, African Union (AU), Arab League and NATO also saluted the breakthrough.
The only sour note came from Turkey whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, questioned the agreement’s viability. “The ceasefire agreement that has been signed is not a ceasefire at the highest level. Time will show how lasting it will be at lower levels,” he told reporters in Istanbul 23 October. He also questioned the possibility of withdrawing mercenaries, “such as the Russian Wagner Group”, within three months.
In Libya itself, diverse reactions among both eastern and western factions reflect the postures they are preparing for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) that is due to convey in Tunisia 9 November. UNSMIL has already begun preparatory meetings with representatives of the House of Representatives and the High Council of State (HCS) as well as with other political figures who are expected to attend the forum.
In western Libya, Fayez Al-Sarraj, chairman of the Presidency Council of the GNA in Tripoli, said the ceasefire agreement concluded by the military commission would pave the way for the success of the political and economic tracks of the UN sponsored peace process. Nevertheless, he stressed the need to “show no mercy towards those who committed crimes against the Libyan people and who left behind mines and mass graves when they withdrew”. Members of the LNA have been alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during its western offensive.
Ahmed Omar Maiteeq, one of the vice chairmen of the Presidency Council, welcomed the ceasefire without reservations. The HCS similarly hailed the ceasefire when it was signed. However, two days later, the consultative body referred to the ceasefire as an agreement “between a legitimate authority and a rebel force” and voiced reservations on points related to the departure of mercenaries, the suspension of military training agreements and the departure of trainers.
To the east, House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh hailed the agreement but kept his remarks to a minimum, perhaps because he is focused on his campaign to field himself as chair of the new Presidency Council expected to emerge from the LPDF.
LNA Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar also welcomed the agreement and reaffirmed his commitment to a permanent ceasefire. In a press conference Saturday, LNA Spokesman Major General Ahmed Al-Mismari added that the agreement required a “fair and genuine guarantor” and a “deterrent force” that would compel all parties to implement its terms.
The internationally sponsored permanent ceasefire agreement is the first of its kind in Libya since 2011. On the other hand, some of its points are vague, especially those concerning the interim capital and the duties, composition and mechanisms of the Security Operations Room and the limited military force stipulated in the agreement to deter violations. As with all agreements struck by Libyan players since 2011, details about important issues are relegated to sub-committees while commissions tend to confine themselves to generalities in order to avert tensions.
Unsurprisingly, the ceasefire agreement did not identify the foreign mercenaries and fighters on Libyan territory. This lack of clarity offers an opening for varying interpretations and evasion on what has become one of the most sensitive and complex aspects of the Libyan conflict.
“Libyans are looking for less rather than more foreign military presence in their country. We share that interest,” US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat 22 October. Some have interpreted Norland’s remarks as a sign that Washington believes that certain foreign parties will attempt to strike arrangements to legitimise the continued presence of their mercenaries in Libya.
Although the ceasefire is a major step towards the LPDF next month, the path is not entirely smooth yet. The list of expected attendees that UNSMIL announced Sunday triggered considerable opposition among Libyan political circles, especially in Tripoli.
In addition, the preparatory meetings that UNSMIL has held since the beginning of September have failed to make tangible progress towards finalising the forum’s agenda and the mechanisms and criteria for nominating and selecting candidates for the new executive authority. In light of such difficulties, the US, EU powers and the UN asked Al-Sarraj to stay on as Presidency Council chairman and GNA prime minister until a new executive authority is chosen. Last month, Al-Sarraj had announced his intention to step down before the end of October.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly