UN envoy reports positive start to Libya talks in Geneva

Ghassan Salame, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, briefed reporters about the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on February 4, 2020. Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Rival Libyan military factions are meeting in Geneva with the aim of securing a “lasting ceasefire”, United Nations envoy Ghassan Salamé told reporters on Tuesday.

Keystone-SDA/Reuters/AFP/sb

Military officers of rival factions from the North African country began UN-led talks in Geneva on Monday, aimed at building trust and working out a monitoring mechanism for a ceasefire after ten months of fighting on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli.

Salamé said the two sides initiated indirect talks “on transforming truce into a lasting” ceasefire and that there was a “genuine will to start negotiating together”. 

He thanked Switzerland for its “precious help” in organising the Geneva meeting.

The so-called “Libyan Joint Military Commission” includes five senior officers from eastern commander Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) and five officers from the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar has been waging an offensive since April to take control of Tripoli, where the GNA is based. The fighting has displaced more than 150,000 people and has drawn the increasing attention of outside powers. Clashes have continued despite a call for a truce by Russia and Turkey on January 12 and an international summit in Berlin on January 19 aimed at reducing international interference.

Haftar has received material support from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, and Russia, according to UN experts and diplomats, while the government is backed militarily by Turkey.

“Bridge gaps”

On Tuesday, Salame said the two sides were aiming “to bridge the gaps in their views on how the lasting, sustainable ceasefire can be organised on the ground”.

“We started yesterday to discuss with them a long list of points on our agenda, starting on an attempt to transform the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side and also to transform that truce into a real agreement on a lasting ceasefire,” he said.

He added that the two rival groups should actually sit face-to-face together in Geneva for the first time when it is appropriate. But he insisted that not all questions could be resolved in one session. 

Intra-Libyan talks are also planned to discuss political and economic affairs. The political segment is due to take place in two weeks’ time in Geneva.

According to the UN, more than 200 civilians have been killed and more than 128,000 people have fled their homes since the Libyan conflict escalated in early April of last year amid Hafter's push towards the capital. The fighting has threatened to plunge the country into a state of violent chaos to rival the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

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