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Libya truce 'unforeseeable' without dialogue as UN urges ceasefire

Ceasefire is unlikely in the absence of a neutral government and meaningful dialogue, say analysts
Libyan Dawn fighters near town of Wershfana, close to Tripoli on 13 October (AFP)

The United Nations has urged rival militias in western Libya to observe a truce for at least four days from Saturday to facilitate humanitarian aid for civilians trapped by the fighting.

"The United Nations Support Mission in Libya is proposing a cessation of military operations in the areas of Kekla and Kalaa in western Libya for at least four days," UNSMIL said.

That would help "to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance", a statement said, adding that UNSMIL could send an aircraft to evacuate the wounded "once the initiative is implemented".

"Letters detailing the initiative, which is supported by the government of Italy, have been sent to the municipal councils" of the embattled region, the statement added.

The clashes first broke out last weekend when militias supporting renegade General Khalifa Haftar from the hill town of Zintan attacked the twin towns of Kekla and Al-Kalaa, which support the Islamist-led Libya Dawn militia.

More than 20 people were killed and dozens wounded in the weekend fighting, but figures on casualties since then are unavailable.

“The Zintanis are attacking in order to set some form of defence against Libya Dawn. They are trying to gain more ground in the mountains by attacking the pro-Libya Dawn towns in order to defend themselves,” Tripoli-based journalist Hassan Morajea told MEE.

Kekla and Kalaa are situated in a mountainous region between Zintan controlled by pro-Haftar militia and Tripoli which is under the control of Libya Dawn.

Libya Dawn, a coalition of militias mostly from third city Misrata, expelled Zintan fighters from the capital in August after several weeks of deadly clashes, with much of the violence focused on the international airport.

The elected House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk admitted its loss of control over the capital. HoR continues to battle for power with the old parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), which is supported by Libya Dawn and maintains that it is the legitimate parliament.

After seizing Tripoli, Libya Dawn has extended its operations to the west, to the Warshefana region which supports the Zintanis, alleging that Ghaddafi loyalists are held up there.

Fighting has also raged in second city Benghazi in the east, where Haftar forces launched an offensive this week to crush Islamist militias that has so far killed more than 50 people.

“Another way of looking at [the situation in the West] is that the Zintani attacks are part of Haftar’s renewed offensive against Islamists which he ignited via social media on 15 October,” Morajea explained.

The UN refugee agency said earlier this month that clashes between rival militias has driven an estimated 287,000 people from their homes, including about 100,000 who have fled the outskirts of Tripoli.

Empty calls

UN chief Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Tripoli last weekend as violence erupted with the rival militias fighting on several fronts across the country.

"Let me be clear: if violent confrontations do not cease immediately, if sustainable peace is not restored, prosperity and a better life will be a distant dream," Ban said.

UN-brokered talks began in the southern city of Ghadames on 29 September and were hailed as a “positive” step in beginning a political process to bring unity to Libya. While the meeting did not take in representatives from the warring militias, it is hoped that Misratan parliamentarians who did attend, may open space for dialogue between Tripoli and Tobruk.

Ban reinforced support for the legitimacy of the June elected House of Representatives (HoR) and called on all Libyans to respect the Tobruk-based body. The parliament has struggled to impose its authority from Tobruk, where it moved from Benghazi after fighting forced parliamentarians to seek sanctuary further east.

But while the UN has made continuous calls over the past two months for a truce among the warring militias, analysts says there is little hope for a ceasefire to be successful soon.

“In the absence of a neutral government and a meaningful dialogue, a ceasefire will not be reached,” said Mattia Toaldo, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Toaldo believes that the situation does not lend itself to a ceasefire due to a severe crisis in legitimacy. Although the UN is right to call for a ceasefire, a truce is unforeseeable unless an agreement between the two opposing coalitions is reached, he says.

“With Libya Dawn controlling large areas of the country, including the capital and the ministries, it feels it is victorious. The other side however - Operation Dignity led by Haftar and the HoR -  represents the internationally recognised government. One side has power but lacks legitimacy while the other side has legitimacy and lacks power,” Toaldo told MEE.

“Each side feels it has something to gain from continuing the fighting,” he added.

Morajea agrees: “The different groups in Libya have proven they will not listen to the international community. This battle will escalate until either side wins."

Libya's prime minister said Saturday that military forces in the strife-torn country have united to try to capture Tripoli and the second city Benghazi from Islamists.

Haftar forces are continuing to clash with Benghazi residents who have taken up arms to fight the military forces.