Opening of coastal road sends a positive Libyan message before Berlin conference

Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah stressed that “the era of fragmentation, division and secession in Libya is over forever.”

Monday 21/06/2021
Libyan Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah stands atop an excavator on June 20, 2021, during a ceremony to mark the reopening of 300-kilometre road between the cities of Misrata and Sirte. (AFP)
Libyan Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah stands atop an excavator on June 20, 2021, during a ceremony to mark the reopening of 300-kilometre road between the cities of Misrata and Sirte. (AFP)

TRIPOLI – The opening of the Libyan coastal Misrata-Sirte road sends a positive message to the international community on the eve of the second Berlin Conference next Wednesday.

The forthcoming conference’s resolutions are expected to be more stringent than the preceding decisions and are likely to include waving the threat of sanctions against those who obstruct the settlement of the crisis.

The opening of the vital route along the Mediterranean coast that links eastern and western Libya comes amid rising tensions between the Government of National Unity (GNU) and the authorities east of the country.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah, announced the reopening of the coastal road, which had been closed for nearly two years, after meetings he held with the commander of the Sirte-Jufra operations room, along with leaders of the Volcano of Anger district commanders and members of the municipal council in Misrata.

He stressed that “the era of fragmentation, division and secession in Libya is over forever.”

He described the opening of the coastal road as “an historic day,” calling on Libyans to renounce division, bury grudges, move towards stability and reconstruction, pay attention to the homeland and build their future. He promised to come to Sirte during in the near future.

Dbeibah personally removed the last barrier on the coastal road from the western side.

The spokesman for the Sirte Operations Room,  Al-Jafra Abdulhadi Darah indicated that an unspecified  deadline was given to the second party (Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar) to withdraw the Russian mercenaries (Wagner forces) who are stationed in the city of Sirte, its airport and Al-Jufra air base. But the spokesman did not make any mention of the Syrian mercenaries and the Turkish forces whose presence is heavily concentrated in the western region.

Libyan media sources reported on Sunday that a delegation from the UN mission arrived in Sirte to work on overcoming the difficulties. Also that the joint military committee will discuss, Monday, arrangements for opening of the coastal road and ways of securing it, as well as the issue of mercenaries and foreign fighters.

The re-opening of the route came after a visit, Saturday, by the head of Egyptian intelligence, Major General Abbas Kamel to Tripoli during which he met Debeibah and the president of the Presidency Council Muhammad al-Menfi. He then travelled to Benghazi and met the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Egyptian sources told The Arab Weekly that the visit raised the Issue of the coastal road with both sides and advised them to accept its re-opening before the convening of the second Berlin Conference, thus conveying a positive message to the international community highlighting the possibility of reaching understandings on many other issues.

The opening of the Misrata-Sirte road came one day after the visit by Libya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Naglah al-Manqoush to Cairo where she was met Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, and had extensive discussions with her Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Libyan Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah speaks in the town of Buwairat al-Hassoun during a ceremony to mark the reopening of the road between the cities of Misrata and Sirte. (AFP)
Libyan Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah speaks in the town of Buwairat al-Hassoun during a ceremony to mark the reopening of the road between the cities of Misrata and Sirte. (AFP)

Manqoush said during a joint press conference with Shoukry that the Berlin conference will launch the “Libya Stability Initiative,” which “will be a Libyan agenda and vision and a mechanism to pressure the international community to demonstrate serious interest in supporting Libya’s stability.”

Observers believe that the re-opening of the coastal road demonstrates the possibility of reaching an understanding on thorny issues between the executive authority in the west and the commander of the LNA in the east.

It also represents an important step towards putting into practice the ceasefire agreement signed last October and eases the pressure on the GNU, which needs to show its seriousness in making progress towards national reconciliation.

Libyan political analyst Issa Rashwan said that the diplomatic momentum between Egypt and Libya is aimed at containing Turkey’s recent moves and preventing it from aborting the efforts of the Joint Military Committee.

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Rashwan added that Cairo seeks to ensure the long-term re-opening of the coastal road to ensure the decision is not just a temporary and politically expedient measure that can be used by one party at the expense of another.

Libyan sources who spoke to The Arab Weekly correspondent did not rule out the new closure of the coastal road within a month or two, by armed groups in the west likely who are likely to try to disrupt traffic as they benefit from the closure of the route and obtain millions of dollars from merchants seeking to bypass the blockade using other roads.

Since the closure of the coastal road in April 2019, Libyans have used alternative routes to travel between east and west and vice versa. Travelling on these roads is risky and time-consuming with armed gangs controlling various stretches of the journey.

The Joint Military Committee (5+5) had previously agreed to open the coastal road but disagreed on some of the conditions.

The government-affiliated Sirte-Al-Jufra Operations Room requested that the LNA forces withdraw from Sirte to open the coastal road. Haftar’s forces rejected the condition and demanded instead that the mercenary forces kept away from the road.  Disagreement on these conditions led to the continued closure of the road for two years.