Libya's rival governments issue calls for ceasefire

United Nations and Egypt welcome moves towards peace in war-torn country

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 29, 2018 (L to R) Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar,  speaker of the eastern-based parliament Aguila Saleh Issa, and head of the Tripoli-based UN-recognised unity government Fayez al-Sarraj, attend an International Congress on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Libya's warring rival governments announced in separate statements signed by Sarraj, Saleh and Haftar on August 21, that they would cease all hostilities and organise nationwide elections soon, an understanding swiftly welcomed by the United Nations.
 / AFP / POOL / Etienne LAURENT
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Libya's warring rival governments on Friday issued separate statements calling for a ceasefire that were immediately welcomed by neighbouring Egypt and the United Nations.

The statements were signed by Fayez Al Sarraj, head of the Government of National Accord based in the capital Tripoli, and Aguila Saleh, speaker of the eastern-based House of Representatives.

The GNA statement said Mr Al Sarraj "issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and [halt] all combat operations in all Libyan territories". It also called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in March.

The GNA and Mr Saleh both cited the spread of coronavirus as a reason for backing a ceasefire.

Both statements called for the demilitarisation of Sirte, a central coastal city controlled by forces aligned with the rival House of Representatives, and for a joint police force to be responsible for security there.

The GNA appealed for the lifting of a seven-month blockade on Libya's oil production and export facilities and for revenues from oil sales to be held in a special account and released only after a political deal was reached.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi welcomed the ceasefire declarations as an "important step" on the path to restoring stability in Libya.

"I welcome statements by Libya's presidential council and the House of Representatives calling for a ceasefire and halting military operations in all Libyan territory," Mr El Sisi said in a tweet.

The UN Support Mission in Libya also welcomed the statements, and called for the expulsion of all foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya.

A statement posted on Twitter from Stephanie Williams, the acting UN Secretary General's special representative for Libya, said the ceasefire proposals should be taken up quickly by the so-called "5+5" joint military commission set up under a plan agreed at a peace conference hosted by Germany in January.

The two initiatives "have created hope for forging a peaceful political solution to the longstanding Libyan crisis", she said.

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said that from first reports, the announcement “could be an important step”.

“We hope and expect that all actors in Libya can continue to agree on this constructive approach, go this constructive path, that would be in the interest of the people of Libya and peace there,” she said.

The announcements follow UN-mediated talks in Geneva this week and a phone call between the foreign ministers of Turkey and Russia, which have emerged as the main backers of the opposing sides in the conflict.

Libya was plunged into chaos when an uprising in 2011 that led to a Nato intervention toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between the east- and west-based administrations.

Turkey has been assisting GNA forces in their fight against the Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which is aligned with the House of Representatives.

Turkey deployed Syrian militias -- including extreamist elements -- to back GNA militias,

There was no immediate comment to the ceasefire calls from the LNA, but Field Marshal Haftar had agreed to a ceasefire deal proposed by Egypt in June that was rejected by the GNA.

More than a year ago Field Marshal Haftar's forces launched a mission against the GNA in Tripoli and the militias it employed to defend it.

LNA forces earlier this year withdrew to Sirte, the strategic gateway to Libya's main oil fields and export terminals, and to the key Al Jufra airbase to the south.

Egypt, which has supported the LNA's fight against extremist Libyan militias, had warned that it would intervene militarily if GNA forces attacked Sirte.

Powerful tribes in eastern Libya loyal to Field Marshal Haftar closed oil export terminals and choked off major pipelines at the start of the year in an effort to put pressure on the Tripoli-based government.

If the ceasefire takes hold, it may bolster negotiations to reopen the oil fields, which Field Marshal Haftar has conditioned on guarantees of a fairer distribution of crude revenues. Earlier this week, a Haftar-aligned group said it would allow exports of stored fuel to open up space for gas amid power cuts in the country.