UN: Libya rivals reach preliminary pact on prisoner exchange

The breakthrough comes ahead of political talks in Morocco later this week

Troops loyal to Libya's internationally recognized government patrol the area in Zamzam, near Abu Qareen, Libya September 15, 2020. Picture taken September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili
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The UN said talks between Libya's rival factions concluded with preliminary agreements to exchange prisoners and open up travel between divided territories.

The face-to-face military talks, which started on Monday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Hurghada, took place in the face of international pressure on both sides and their backers to prevent an escalation of violence.

The UN support mission in Libya said the two days of talks, conducted in “a spirit of responsibility, transparency and mutual trust”, had resulted in progress on several of the lingering issues between the war’s two parties.

It said that both sides agreed they should take steps to ensure that prisoners taken in military operations are released within a month.

They also agreed to expedite the opening of transport links.

The outcomes of the negotiations will be incorporated into UN-brokered military talks set to take place soon, the UN mission said.

The two sides also agreed that the protection of the country’s oil and gas installations should be a priority so that full production and exports can resume.

The majority of the installations are under the control of tribal fighters and forces that support Libyan National Army head Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in the east.

Oil-rich Libya was plunged into chaos after an uprising in 2011 that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed.

The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups.

Field Marshal Hafter’s forces launched an offensive in April last year to try to expel militias from Tripoli, the seat of the western government.

But his campaign stalled in June after Turkey sent weapons and Syrian mercenaries to support the militias fighting for the Government of National Accord.

Fighting has died down in recent months, but both sides were preparing for a possible battle over Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oilfields and export terminals.

The Egypt talks also reportedly discussed the idea of Field Marshal Haftar leading a national military in the event that talks result in a reconciliation agreement between east and west.

Khalid Al Mishri, who leads the High Council of State that advises the western administration, is expected to take part in political talks with the eastern House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh, in Morocco this week.

The talks were slated for Sunday but were pushed back to Thursday.

It will be the second meeting in Morocco between the two sides in recent months as the UN and the international community push for reconciliation. 

In June, as fighting raged and the eastern forces made gains, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi laid out a framework for talks in the Cairo Declaration.