Libya rivals agree in Egypt talks on prisoner exchange, transit links

The face-to-face military talks started Monday in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada under UN auspices.
Wednesday 30/09/2020
A view of the Hurghada southern Red Sea resort city in Egypt. (AFP)
A view of the Hurghada southern Red Sea resort city in Egypt. (AFP)

CAIRO--The United Nations says talks between Libyan rivals in Egypt have concluded with preliminary agreements to exchange prisoners and open up air and land transit across the country’s divided territory.

The face-to-face military talks, which started Monday in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, came amid international pressure on both sides of the war and their foreign backers to avert an escalation.

The UN support mission in Libya said in a written statement that the two days of talks, conducted in “a spirit of responsibility, transparency and mutual trust,” had resulted in progress on several of the lingering issues between the war’s two parties.

It said that both sides agreed they should take steps to ensure the release of all prisoners taken amid military operations sometime next month. Another point was that both sides would expedite the opening of transit links across their respective territories.

The outcomes of the negotiations will be mainstreamed into UN-brokered military talks which should be held in the coming week, the UN  mission said.

The two sides also agreed that the protection of country’s oil and gas facilities, which are largely under the control of forces backing Libyan National Army commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in the country’s eastern region, should be a priority in the coming talks, in order for production and export to resume fully.

Parallel negotiated tracks towards a settlement in Libya have been pursued in recent weeks in various venues as meetings have been held in Egypt, Morocco and Switzerland.  Talks were scheduled to resume Tuesday in the Moroccan city of Bouznika but have been reportedly postponed. France is also said to be working to convene a conference bringing together Libya’s neighbours.  The multiplicity of tracks could confuse the search for a Libya settlement, experts fear.

The agenda of the Hurghada talks, sources said, included discussing mechanisms for ending the presence of mercenaries in the country, disarming armed brigades, forming national forces to secure oil fields and ensure its continued flow, and changing the method of controlling resources to ensure their fair distribution.

Hurghada, which is about 500km from Cairo, was chosen to provide a quiet environment for the meetings and ensure their confidentiality. It was reported that leaders and high-ranking security, political and economic figures from both sides were participating in these meetings but their names have not been disclosed. The main goals of the meetings are to reach an understanding about the requirements of forming a joint force whose mission is to secure the new government proposed to be based in the city Sirte in central Libya, and to prepare for the resumption of talks on the unification of the military institution at a later time..

Egypt-based military and security talks came after both sides, under heavy international pressure, agreed earlier this month on a preliminary deal that aims to guide the country toward elections within 18 months and demilitarise Sirte, which is held by the LNA.