A matter of mercenaries, foreign fighters have long been an obstacle in the run-up to Libya’s historic general election.
Libya’s rival parties have reached an initial agreement on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the North African nation, a move seen as an important step towards unification of the warring factions in the violence-ravaged country.
The UN mission to mediate between the rivals said a 10-member joint military commission, with five representatives from each side, (JMC 5+5), signed a “gradual and balanced” withdrawal agreement at the end of the three-day period. UN-facilitated talks in Geneva on Friday.
It added that the plan, coupled with an implementation mechanism, would be “the cornerstone for the gradual, balanced and orderly process of withdrawal” of the mercenaries and foreign troops.
Jan Kubis, the UN special envoy to Libya, welcomed the move as “another groundbreaking achievement”.
Friday’s deal “creates positive momentum to build on to move forward towards a stable and democratic stage, including through the holding of free, credible and transparent national elections on December 24, the results of which are widely accepted”. said Cubis.
The UN has welcomed the signing of an action plan aligned with a ceasefire, the respective United Nations Security Council resolutions and the results of the Berlin Conference last year.
Mercenaries and Civil War
The issue of mercenaries and foreign fighters has long been an obstacle in the run-up to Libya’s historic general election.
Last December, Stephanie Williams, the acting UN envoy to Libya, estimated that there have been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya in recent years, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese and Chadians.
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed insurgency overthrew longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The oil-rich country was later divided for years between rival governments in the capital Tripoli and the eastern part of the country. Each side is supported by different foreign powers and militia groups.
The split of Libya came to the fore in 2019, when renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, affiliated with the eastern-based government, launched an offensive to take Tripoli from armed militias loosely linked to the UN-recognized but weak government in the country’s capital.
Haftar was supported by Egypt, the UAE, Russia and France. But its 14-month campaign and march to Tripoli finally backfired in June 2020, after Turkey sent troops to aid the UN-recognized government, which also had the support of Qatar and Italy.
After the fighting had largely come to a stalemate, subsequent UN-sponsored peace talks led to a ceasefire last October and an interim government was installed that is expected to lead the country into December elections.
The ceasefire agreement also included the departure of foreign troops and mercenaries within three months – something that was never implemented.
After the deal was signed in Geneva, the rival parties said they would go back and communicate with their base and relevant international parties “in support of the implementation of this plan and respecting Libya’s sovereignty”.
The deal also called for the deployment of UN observers to monitor the ceasefire ahead of the implementation of the withdrawal plan.