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 continued violence between the two local forces competing for power, and their inability to cooperate has locked the conflict in a stalemate that sees no immediate end. In this excerpt from its Watch List 2019 - Second Update, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to work towards an internationally-monitored ceasefire.
Hostilities spread to new areas: fighting between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces nominally loyal to UN-backed Govt of National Accord (GNA) continued in and around capital Tripoli, GNA carried out airstrikes in Jufra and Waddan in centre, and LNA in Misrata east of Tripoli. Parties continued to receive military support from allies (GNA from Turkey, LNA from United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt), while diplomacy to stop war remained paralysed. Fighting in and around Tripoli led to no substantial change in territorial control. Suspected LNA airstrikes on Tajura migrant detention centre near Tripoli 2 July killed at least 50 migrants, prompting international outrage; LNA denied responsibility, claimed it targeted weapons depot. GNA 20-21 July carried out airstrikes on LNA-held Tripoli airport and Wadi Rabea, reportedly killing thirteen LNA. LNA 22 July launched large-scale assault on several fronts to capture Tripoli, which GNA forces repelled, capturing eleven LNA. Suspected LNA airstrikes 27 July targeted Zawiya hospital killing five medics. For first time since April outbreak, GNA drones 25 July attacked LNA in Jufra and Waddan in centre, destroying LNA assets. LNA 26 July struck Misrata airport some 200km east of Tripoli, from where GNA drones took off, no damage reported. Instability increased in east. In Benghazi, unclaimed car bombs 11 July killed two soldiers and two civilians; LNA blamed GNA supporters. Five bodies recovered in Benghazi 18 July. Cairo 14-16 July hosted some 70 members of Tobruk-based parliament House of Representatives (HoR) in bid to revive body’s legitimacy; Tripoli-based parliamentarians boycotted meeting, but participants reaffirmed HoR authority to appoint unity govt. U.S., UK, France, UAE, Egypt and Italy 16 July called for halt to conflict. UN envoy 29 July called for truce on Eid al-Adha holiday around 10 Aug accompanied by confidence-building measures, followed by summit of “concerned countries” to cement arms embargo, and then by national conference.
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 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.
In terms of dynamics and movement of armed groups on the ground [in Libya], I would say it’s even worse than 2011 after the fall of Gaddafi. At least in 2011 they had a sense of optimism and respect for one another. Now they are all trying to carve out territory but with deep distrust and animosity with each other.
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.
Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
While Libya’s first reform package since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011 has had positive initial effects, more must be done to improve the deteriorating economic situation in the country. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 annual early-warning update for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to address some of the packages’ core issues and press the government to create more thorough economic reforms.