Implementation of the UN-mediated 2015 political deal that established the Presidency Council and Tripoli-based interim government has been hindered by claims of illegitimacy by rival political forces. Although the framework of the deal is the only viable path to resolving the Libyan conflict, Crisis Group encourages all parties to negotiate a new government with nationwide legitimacy. Important steps were taken in July 2017, when rivals President al-Serraj and General Haftar agreed to a ceasefire agreement and to hold elections in 2018. Yet Libya remains deeply divided and failure to implement the agreement could adversely affect regional security as well as increase migrant flows into the European Union. Crisis Group aims to inform the international community, as well as national and regional actors, about the importance of prioritising economic development and basic political consensus as the main stepping stones for sustainable peace.
The war in Libya is at risk of escalating into a full-fledged proxy war. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to prompt UN action and press for the warring parties to keep their Berlin conference promises.
Fighting intensified around Tripoli and elsewhere as UN mediation efforts floundered. New round of fighting began mid-March between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab-Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) and forces allied to Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord (GNA). ALAF 19 March fired missiles on Ain Zara neighbourhood killing four civilians. GNA 20 March reportedly killed 25 ALAF fighters. GNA fighters from Misrata attempting to recapture Sirte, under ALAF control since early Jan, clashed occasionally with ALAF. UN Security Council-recognised National Oil Corporation (NOC) in Tripoli 16 March reported illegal shipments of jet fuel arriving in ALAF-held Benghazi from United Arab Emirates (UAE). ALAF-backed tribes maintained closure of oil production and export sites causing $3bn shortfall since blockade began mid-Jan. UN Sec-Gen’s Special Representative Ghassan Salamé resigned 2 March, dealing blow to peace talks. Salamé’s political deputy, U.S. diplomat Stephanie Williams, named acting head of UN mission 11 March. Embassies of Algeria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, UK, U.S., EU delegation, and govts of Tunisia and UAE 17 March called on conflict parties to declare humanitarian ceasefire, halt transfers of military equipment and personnel, and allow local authorities to respond to COVID-19 challenge. GNA and ALAF issued responses 18 and 21 March respectively, but fighting escalated thereafter dashing hopes of ceasefire. GNA 25 March launched offensive to capture ALAF-controlled Wutiya airbase south west of Tripoli, but failed and retreated with ALAF prisoners; ALAF forces moved west taking control of small towns of Jmeil and Ragdalin. Fighting escalated around Abu Ghrein, near Sirte from 28 March: dozens killed on both sides, reportedly including at least six high-level ALAF commanders.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s march on Tripoli has ground to a halt in a war of attrition with the internationally recognised government’s forces on the city’s outskirts. The parties should conclude a ceasefire including Haftar’s partial withdrawal as a prelude to renewed UN peace talks.
An under-reported banking crisis threatens to exacerbate deadly fighting in Tripoli, ignite a protracted resource war and deepen the country’s east-west divide. A way out requires agreeing to a ceasefire in Tripoli and ending the four-year split between the Central Bank’s rival branches.
Adherents of a Salafi school, the Madkhalis, are gaining prominence on both sides of Libya’s divide, causing concerns about puritanical agendas imposed through military and religious institutions. Negotiators should ensure that rebuilt security forces are politically neutral and secure the Madkhalis’ pledge to respect pluralism.
A renewed struggle this summer over Libya’s main oil export zone cut sales in half, squeezing hard currency supplies amid outcry about mismanagement of hydrocarbon revenues. To build trust, Libyan and international actors should review public spending and move toward unifying divided financial institutions.
Four main Libyan leaders meet in Paris on 29 May to sign a roadmap to peace, including 2018 elections with united international backing. But with Libya’s UN-backed peace process at risk from the meeting's format and the accord that France has brokered, the sides should instead commit to a broader declaration of principles.
The surprise electoral defeat of one Libyan leader and the hospitalisation of a rival show the error of relying solely on individuals to achieve national reconciliation in Libya. All sides in Libya’s conflict should focus instead on making institutions more representative and improving governance.
[L’envoyé spécial des Nations unies en Libye, Ghassan Salamé,] était un envoyé infatigable qui voulait probablement plus la paix que les Libyens eux-mêmes.
Tout le monde veut la fin de la guerre en Libye, sauf que chacun a une idée différente de ce qui devrait être la nouvelle configuration politique. Donc la guerre continue.
[The new European Union foreign policy chief has brought] a renewed energy and willingness to look at Libya as a crisis and a war in and of itself.
The French need to clarify in greater detail. The open question is whether or not they are actively supporting Haftar’s forces in their offensive on Tripoli.
With the GNA and the LNA refusing to halt hostilities and amid diplomatic paralysis, the war in and around Tripoli is likely to drag on.
Haftar is deeply unpopular in many places and given the fragmented state of Libya and the proliferation of armed groups it’s going to be very hard to impose his rule throughout the country.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The second update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Colombia, Ethiopia, Iran and Libya.
Fighting between forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and allies of the UN-backed government in Tripoli threatens a bloodbath and a regional proxy war. Libya’s international partners should urgently take steps to avoid a major battle and get both sides back to the negotiating table under a new format.