Key military, security agreements reached between Libyan sides

Security arrangements for oil installations dominated the Hurghada talks between rival Libyan sides that took place September 28-29.
Thursday 01/10/2020
A member of the Petroleum Facilities Guard is seen at the entrance of Azzawiyah Oil Refinery, in Zawiyah west of Tripoli, Libya July 23, 2020. (Reuters)
A member of the Petroleum Facilities Guard is seen at the entrance of Azzawiyah Oil Refinery, in Zawiyah west of Tripoli, Libya July 23, 2020. (Reuters)

CAIRO – Security arrangements for oil installations dominated the Hurghada talks between rival Libyan sides that took place September 28-29.

The 5+5 group that emerged from the Berlin conference examined security arrangements, with the tasks and responsibilities of the Petroleum Facilities Guard being transferred to the Joint Military Committee.

The group also took measures to ensure the regularity of the production and export process.

Sources told The Arab Weekly that the issue is a high priority for US officials, and that Washington had thrown its weight behind the talks sponsored by the head of the UN Support Mission to Libya and acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya Stephanie Williams, who seems to be relying heavily on Egypt to solve the dilemma.

The resumption of oil production and export began gradually after the Sochi agreement between the General Command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) and vice-president of the Presidential Council for the city of Misrata Ahmed Maitig.

The Sochi agreement reflected Russia’s strong influence over the oil file, which for decades had been largely controlled by the US.

In recent months, Washington and its Libyan allies have repeatedly accused Moscow of deploying Wagner mercenaries in some Libyan ports and oil fields.

The United States is seeking to make the central region from Sirte to Ajdabiya a demilitarised zone, which means ending the control of the LNA led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Moscow’s strong ally, over the region.

The LNA rejected the disarmament initiative, which raises questions about the position of LNA representatives in the Hurghada talks and may indicate divisions within the organisation’s ranks. It is likely that those who attended the talks were affiliated with Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh.

Washington, apparently angered by Haftar’s refusal to share power with Islamists, is working tirelessly to get rid of Haftar and keep him out of the political scene.

The US largely succeeded in isolating Haftar from the international community before he returned to the scene thanks to the Sochi agreement. This indicates that Russia still supports the Libyan field-marshal despite news in recent months about tensions between the two sides.

Details of the security meetings held in Hurghada were largely kept secret, with the names of each side’s representatives undisclosed.

A ceasefire has already been agreed to between the two sides, as well as necessary measures to ensure the security and export of oil, paving the way for the start of political and economic dialogue sessions that could lead to the initiation of a settlement to the Libyan crisis.

Sources who spoke to The Arab Weekly cited the Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s announcement that he would step down by the end of October as being influenced by US pressure.

The sources said the announcement could call for a similar step from the other side —  Haftar — who would likely receive guarantees that he will not face legal trouble.

“There are fears among some that a large step of this kind will lead to a jolt within the military establishment before the success of the mission to unify it properly, which will return the matter to what it was in terms of disintegration and fragmentation,” one source said.

“Therefore, Haftar must continue at the head of the Libyan army at this stage,” the source said, in a hint that Haftar would probably no step down.

The Hurghada meeting was the first time delegations met directly as part of the 5+5  group that emerged from the Berlin conference. Representatives of the United Nations previously communicated with each team and relayed messages to the other. The previous indirect talks reflected their resistance to direct dialogue, impeding progress.

The fact that the two sides have broken the cycle shows that the dialogue efforts are serious, while the international and regional push for military progress could spearhead greater political, economic and security gains.

The UN support mission announced in a statement on Tuesday that it had come up with a set of important recommendations at the conclusion of direct talks in Hurghada between the two delegations, which included officers representing both the LNA and GNA.

The talks included expediting meetings of the Joint Military Committee (5+5), holding direct meetings within the next week and taking urgent measures to exchange detainees arrested during military operations before the end of October by creating specialised committees.

The two latter decisions strengthen the United Nations’s desire to resolve some of the problems that have been hindering political understandings between the rival Libyan parties and to open the door for agreements reached at the Moroccan Bouznika meetings to be implemented, preparing the way for the Geneva conference expected to be held in mid-October.