Libya's Dbeibah says coastal road reopened before Berlin talks

Road between Tripoli and Benghazi was meant to reopen months ago as part of ceasefire agreements

People cheer as an excavator removes rubble during a ceremony in the town of Buwairat al-Hassoun, on june 20, 2021, during a ceremony marking the reopening of 300-kilometre road between the cities of Misrata and Sirte.  Libya's unity government today reopened the coastal highway linking the country's east and west, that was cut off in 2019 as eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli. 
It connects the war-torn North African country's border with Tunisia to its frontier with Egypt. / AFP / Mahmud TURKIA

The head of Libya’s unity government on Sunday said he had reopened the main coastal road across the frozen front line, in a gesture of progress in the fragile peace process.

But eastern forces said the road remained closed.

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s move to reopen the road is in line with a ceasefire deal agreed to last year to resolve a decade of conflict in the country.

International powers will meet in Berlin this week to discuss the crisis in Libya, and progress towards unifying the country’s fragmented institutions and holding elections, planned for December.

Mr Dbeibah removed a mound of sand blocking the road at the final checkpoint on the western side of the front line, before driving eastwards with his convoy towards Sirte, held by eastern forces.

But a media unit of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army said the road was still closed and there was “no truth to what is rumoured about it reopening”.

The reopening of the coastal motorway and other terms of the ceasefire were meant to happen months ago.

They were agreed to in September after the collapse of a 14-month offensive on Tripoli by the eastern-based forces.

But although flights between Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi have resumed and some prisoners have been freed, the road remained blocked.

Forces in western Libya had refused to open it until another ceasefire condition – the removal of powerful foreign mercenaries entrenched around front lines – was carried out.

The ceasefire and the formation of Mr Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity were agreed on through talks supported by the UN and backed by the international community.

The process is intended to result in elections, but neither the UN participants nor the eastern-based parliament have agreed on a constitutional basis for the vote to go ahead, opening possible challenges to its legitimacy.

Before the Berlin conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met Libya's Najla Mangoush in Cairo on Saturday.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri (R) meets with his Libyan counterpart Najla al-Mangoush (L) in the capital Cairo on June 19, 2021. / AFP / Khaled DESOUKI

Mr Shoukry stressed the importance of “achieving clear results” during the meeting on Libya, and the commitment of all parties to reach a positive outcome.

Ms Mangoush spoke of the opportunities for the unity government to bring “a national unified vision and a clear strategy” to the Berlin meetings, in which Libya has not previously been involved because of “political splits and lack of unified visions”.

Germany and the UN plan to host the Berlin conference on Libya on June 23.

It will follow up on a first conference held in January 2020, at which leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and push Libya’s warring parties to reach a ceasefire.

The agenda will include discussions of preparations for elections in December and the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh gestures during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya, June 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ayman al-Sahili
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