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 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.
Diplomatic efforts intensified to de-escalate conflict between forces loyal to UN-backed Govt of National Accord (GNA) and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF, previously known as Libyan National Army), but fell short of ceasefire deal. Turkish parliament 2 Jan approved deployment of troops and naval assets to Libya in support of PM Serraj’s GNA. In subsequent weeks, Ankara reportedly sent 2,000 allied Syrian fighters and dozens of Turkish military experts to capital Tripoli. Airstrike on military academy in Tripoli 4 Jan reportedly killed at least 30, most of them students; GNA blamed ALAF, who denied involvement. ALAF 6 Jan seized control of coastal city of Sirte. Russia, Haftar’s ally, and Turkey 8 Jan called for ceasefire starting 12 Jan and return to negotiating table; for a week starting 12 Jan, both sides refrained from aerial strikes and only exchanged minor artillery fire. Russia and Turkey 13 Jan brought Haftar and Serraj to Moscow in attempt to seal seven-point ceasefire agreement; Serraj signed it, but Haftar rejected it. Pro-Haftar local tribes 17 Jan shut down oil production and exports, prompting production to plummet from 1.2mn barrels per day to 300,000 overnight; blockade was ongoing as of 31 Jan. Leaders from twelve countries including Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Germany, France, Italy and UK, as well as representatives of UN, EU, African Union and League of Arab States, attended much-delayed international peace conference in Berlin 19 Jan, called on warring parties and their foreign backers to “redouble efforts” for sustained suspension of hostilities; commit to implement UN arms embargo; and support UN-backed political process. In Berlin, Serraj and Haftar did not attend conference, but reportedly agreed to appoint representatives to military committee scheduled to meet in Geneva under UN auspices by end of Jan to discuss details of ceasefire; military talks were later postponed. Fighting resumed late Jan in Tripoli: ALAF airstrikes 29 Jan killed four civilians in southern Hadba neighbourhood.
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.
[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.
Any effort to unite Libya requires an integrated strategy with a political, security and economic component complementing each other and working together towards a common objective.
In Libya, there is a view that outsiders are meddling and hence Libyans can’t reach solutions.
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.