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.
Despite intense diplomacy aimed at brokering ceasefire in Jan, fighting and arms imports continued throughout month and UN-led talks faltered. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF, previously Libyan National Army) kept up assault on capital Tripoli held by forces loyal to UN-backed Govt of National Accord (GNA). Rockets hit Tripoli’s Meitiga airport and 6 Feb Tripoli University causing no casualties. Strike on residential neighbourhood of Nauwfiliyin 12 Feb killed one. Missile hit Tripoli’s functioning port 18 Feb; Turkish President Erdoğan 22 Feb said Turkish military had suffered losses in Libya, possibly reference to two Turkish soldiers presumed killed in port strike. Haftar 23 Feb claimed his forces had killed sixteen Turkish soldiers, figure believed to be exaggerated. Both sides continued to receive shipments of arms and military equipment from external backers. Cargo flights landed in Benghazi city from Haftar allies Jordan and United Arab Emirates early Feb; Turkey reportedly continued shipments of military equipment to Tripoli for GNA forces and pro-Turkey Syrian fighters continued to arrive, now estimated at over 2,000. Talks between five ALAF and five GNA military representatives in Geneva early Feb failed to produce ceasefire agreement; GNA initially called off second meeting due 18 Feb following ALAF strike on Tripoli port but subsequently talks resumed without producing agreement. Negotiations on new governing framework and new govt of national unity kicked off 26 Feb but GNA and House of Representatives pulled their delegates citing lack of progress in military talks. UN hosted talks on financial/economic track in Cairo 16-17 Feb with no breakthrough. Oil sector closures supported by pro-Haftar tribes continued, reportedly causing revenue shortfall of over $2bn. UN Security Council 12 Feb adopted first conflict-related resolution since April 2019 outbreak of hostilities, calling on parties to commit to ceasefire and on UN member states to comply with arms embargo, Russia abstained. EU foreign affairs ministers 17 Feb agreed to launch new operation in Mediterranean Sea to enforce UN arms embargo, expected to launch in March.
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.