Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Two main parties in conflict agree to Libya ceasefire

The internationally-recognized Tobruk government announced a ceasefire as of midnight Sunday. The rival faction Libya Dawn associated with the Tripoli government had announced a truce two days before.


Peace talks are set to resume next week again in Geneva. Earlier talks had taken place without the participation of representatives from the Tripoli government but in spite of that the Libya Dawn militia called a truce shortly after the talks. The talks were able to map out a route to a unity government, that would rule until a new constitution is created, accepted and then new elections held. Both sides accept the committee that is drafting the new constitution. The announcement by the Tobruk government may mean little as the army said that it would continue to pursue "terrorists" but CIA-linked Khalifa Haftar whose former militia is the main part of the Libyan Army considers all Islamists who oppose him "terrorists".
 
 Ansar al-Sharia is considered a terrorist organization in the west but is part and parcel of the Shura Council of Revolutionaries who rule the parts of Benghazi controlled by the opposition. If Khalifa Haftar, whose Operation Dignity begun last May started the present conflict, continues to fight against Islamist militias in Benghazi on the grounds they are terrorists, the rest of the Shura Council and perhaps Libya Dawn as well will join in their defense. Perhaps there is an attempt being made to drive a wedge between opponents of the government with the more radical opponents being singled out as "terrorists". This could easily ruin a fragile truce. 
 
 The rival government, the General National Congress(GNC) has added as a condition for attending the Geneva talks scheduled for next week, that they be held in Libya. The GNC said that they are willing to negotiate. Omar Hmeidan, spokesperson for the GNC said that "Talks must be in Ghat, not in Geneva". A GNC member said that 100 of 110 who had attended the GNC meeting Sunday had agreed to the condition. Almost three hundred people have been killed in the last three months as pro-government forces fight with those allied to the Tripoli government according to medical staff in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city. General Haftar has been attempting to wrest control of the city from the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries.  
 
Jason Pack of Libya-Anlaysis. com told Al Jazeera that the ceasefire was only moderately promising noting that while Fajr Libya had agreed to the truce many other militia groups had not and added: "We also do not have both sides of the political leadership of Tripoli represented in Geneva." The army also said that it would be monitoring front lines "to prevent any change in front lines or transportation of weapons and ammunition". Does this include the army itself transporting weapons and ammunition? Probably not. This provision could enable the army to prepare for an offensive in selected areas while denying the other side the ability to prepare to defend itself adequately. 
 
 The Al Jazeera article, along with other news outlets, fails to point out relevant facts important to understanding the context. There is no mention of the Libyan Supreme Court decision that the Tobruk government should be dissolved and that the June elections last year were unconstitutional. There is no mention of the background of the crisis in which as part of Operation Dignity Haftar-allied militia burned the parliament. There is no mention that the present Prime Minister was then Abdullah al-Thinni, called the move illegal and an attempted coup. There was an arrest warrant out for Haftar. Now Haftar is in effect heading the charge against opponents of the government with the blessing of this same al-Thinni now prime minister of the Tobruk government. Of course the Tobruk government rejected the Supreme Court Decision saying that it was made under duress. Al-Thinni applauded the same Supreme Court when it decided against the validity of the appointment of an Islamist-supported prime minister, and left Al-Thinni himself as prime minister. The Islamists accepted the decision.
 
 The situation in Libya may appear much brighter than it seems. It remains to be seen if the parties really want peace or if they are just jockeying to give strength and international legitimacy to their side. The anti-government forces may be willing to join with their opponents in trying to control the most radical jihadist militias. We will see.

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