UN envoy signals breakthroughs in Libyan talks

Stephanie Williams said foreign countries involved in the conflict “need to take their hands off Libya”.
Wednesday 21/10/2020
Stephanie Williams, United Nations Support Mission chief in Libya, speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 21. (AP)
Stephanie Williams, United Nations Support Mission chief in Libya, speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 21. (AP)

GENEVA - The UN envoy for Libya said Wednesday the two warring factions have agreed on issues that “directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people,” noting that the thorny work to cement a cease-fire in the restive North African country will continue.

Stephanie Williams, the UN envoy, cited agreements to open air and land routes in the country, to work to ease inflammatory rhetoric in Libyan media, and to help kick-start Libya’s vital oil industry, as talks in Geneva continued this week under her mediation.

“I am pleased to report that the two sides have reached agreement on several important issues which directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people,” she said. “I urge the two parties negotiating here in Geneva to solve all outstanding issues and forge a lasting cease fire agreement.”

Williams hailed “emerging hope” and “positive developments” for Libya’s future, while warning of socioeconomic troubles, rising cases of COVID-19 and the continued intervention and meddling of foreign powers in Libya’s internal conflict.

Williams said the talks involving the so-called Joint Military Commission will now take up arrangements for Libya’s central region, “paving the way for a cease-fire agreement.”

Speaking at a news conference midway through week-long talks in Geneva this week, Stephanie Williams said the two sides had also agreed to maintain “the current state of calm on the front lines and avoid any military escalation”.

A general view of the talks between the rival factions in the Libya conflict at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland October 20. (Reuters)
A general view of the talks between the rival factions in the Libya conflict at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland October 20. (Reuters)

She said she was “quite optimistic” about the talks given the “air of seriousness and commitment” shown by the two sides.

Libya has been split since 2014 between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east.

This week’s meeting between GNA and LNA military negotiators in Geneva will be followed by a political dialogue in Tunis from November 9, Williams said, adding that foreign countries involved in the conflict “need to take their hands off Libya”.

Libyan oil output resumed in August after an eight-month blockade by the LNA but state producer National Oil Corporation (NOC) has warned of risks posed by the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG), made up of local armed groups.

Williams said the sides in Geneva had agreed to delegate PFG commanders from both east and west to work with an NOC representative to present a proposal to restructure the guards to “ensure the increase and continuation” of oil flow.

She added that they had agreed to make progress on an exchange of detainees between the warring sides and that the first flights between Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi would resume this week.

Williams added that GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s announcement that he intends to step down by the end of this month “should help end the long period of transition” and move towards a democratically elected government and institutions.

UN organisers say the round is expected to run through Saturday, and Williams’ mission “hopes that the two delegations will reach a solution to all outstanding issues in order to achieve a complete and permanent cease-fire across Libya.”

The meetings make up the security aspect of three-track talks, also involving political and economic tracks, that are aimed at lifting Libya out of its gruelling conflict.