The UN mission mediating between the rivals says a 10-member joint military commission, with five representatives from each side, inked a “gradual and balanced” withdrawal deal at the end of three-day, UN-facilitated talks in Geneva.
Libya’s rival sides reached an initial agreement on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the North African nation, the United Nations has said, a key step toward unifying the warring sides in violence-wracked country.
The issue of the mercenaries and foreign fighters has long been an obstacle ahead of Libya's landmark general elections due in December.
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was later for years split between rival governments in the capital, Tripoli, and the eastern part of the country.
Each side is backed by different foreign powers and militia groups.
United Nations Welcomes the JMC’s Signing of Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters, and foreign forces— UNSMIL (@UNSMILibya) October 8, 2021
Further details here 👇👇https://t.co/QBHbBjJX4O pic.twitter.com/w7cAMvkXlH
UN special envoy for Libya welcomes the move
The UN mission mediating between the rivals said a 10-member joint military commission, with five representatives from each side, inked a “gradual and balanced” withdrawal deal on Friday, at the end of three-day, UN-facilitated talks in Geneva.
It added that the plan, coupled with an implementation mechanism, would be “the cornerstone for the gradual, balanced, and sequenced process of withdrawal” of the mercenaries and foreign forces.
Jan Kubis, the UN special envoy for Libya, welcomed the move as “another breakthrough achievement.”
“Agreeing on an action plan sends a signal of hope to the people of Libya that things can be moving, including towards elections,” UN Special Envoy, @UNJanKubis, addressing the JMC (5+5) meeting in Geneva today.— UNSMIL (@UNSMILibya) October 6, 2021
More here: https://t.co/muQkwEsJ3u pic.twitter.com/nyJuI6VljN
Libya's split came into the forefront in 2019, when warlord Khalifa Haftar, allied with the east-based administration, launched an offensive to take Tripoli from armed militias loosely allied with the UN-supported but weak government in the country's capital.
Haftar was backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France. But, his 14-month campaign and march on Tripoli ultimately failed in June 2020, after Turkey sent troops to help the UN-supported administration, which also had the backing of Qatar and Italy.
After the fighting largely stalemated, subsequent UN-sponsored peace talks brought about a ceasefire last October and installed an interim government that is expected to lead the country into the December elections. The ceasefire deal also included the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries within three months — something that was never implemented.
Friday’s deal “creates a positive momentum that should be built upon to move forward towards a stable and democratic stage, including through the holding of free, credible and transparent national elections on 24 December, with results accepted by all,” Kubis said.
After inking the deal in Geneva, the rival sides said they would go back and communicate with their base and concerned international parties “to support the implementation of this plan and the respect of Libya’s sovereignty.”
The deal also called for the deployment of UN observers to monitor the ceasefire before the implementation of withdrawal plan.
READ MORE: Where is Libya’s unity government headed?
At least 20,000 foreign fighters, mercenaries
In December, then UN acting envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams estimated that there have been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya over the past few years, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese, and Chadians.
Though the agreement on mercenaries is seen as a step forward, earlier this month, Libyan lawmakers in the east dealt a setback to the peace process by voting to reschedule the parliamentary elections for January, a month later.
The UN-brokered roadmap has set both parliamentary and presidential elections for December 24. and it wasn't immediately clear how the lawmakers' move would translate into a postponement of the vote.