The deadline for the departure of foreign mercenaries from Libya under an October cease-fire passed as of Saturday but calls to accelerate the process continue as no movement has been announced or observed on the ground.
Under an Oct. 23 agreement, Libya’s rival sides – namely the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in the Libyan capital Tripoli and eastern-based putschist Gen.Khalifa Haftar – reached a countrywide permanent cease-fire in Geneva, including a three-month deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries.
The U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and an international follow-up group underlined their support for the cease-fire deal on Saturday.
"The participants reiterated their full and continued commitment to the implementation of the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement as the deadline set draws near for the departure of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya," the mission said in a statement.
They called on Libyan leaders to accelerate the implementation of the cease-fire, including the "immediate repatriation of all foreign fighters and mercenaries."
The co-chairs of the International Follow-Up Committee for Libya Security Working Group (SWG), represented by the African Union, France, Italy, Turkey, the United Kingdom and UNSMIL met on Jan. 20 with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC).
The co-chairs urged Libyan parties to “take all necessary measures to accelerate the implementation of the cease-fire, prioritizing the opening of the Coastal Road between Abu Grein and Sirte, as well as the immediate repatriation of all foreign fighters and mercenaries.”
They also reiterated their commitment to facilitating the work of the 5+5 JMC through enhanced cooperation and their continued support of the political process.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week urged all "regional and international actors to respect the provisions" of the Oct. 23 cease-fire accord that set out a withdrawal within three months of all foreign troops and mercenaries.
Foreign mercenaries and arms have poured into the country since Haftar launched his offensive, with Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) serving as the putschist general's top suppliers. According to the U.N., there are currently 20,000 foreign forces and/or mercenaries left in Libya.
The Russian Wagner Group, which is owned by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a figure close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is known as one of the main groups that sent mercenaries to fight in Libya.
Most of the foreign forces are concentrated around Sirte at Jufra airbase held by Haftar's forces 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Tripoli and further west in Al-Watiya.
In June, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) revealed that 2,000 Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group had been operating alongside Haftar forces.
A U.N. report on Sudan released in January 2020 also said many Arabs from the war-weary region of Darfur were fighting as "individual mercenaries" alongside warring Libyan parties.
Back in July 2020, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed to foreign mercenaries as the root of the problems in Libya.
In recent months, there has been a flurry of international efforts to end Libya's nearly decadelong conflict.
On Saturday, delegates from the GNA and the rival parliament in eastern Libya said they reached an agreement on filling key state posts, including Libya's central bank governor, the head of an anti-corruption watchdog and an election commission, at talks in the Moroccan resort of Bouznika until Feb. 2.
Rival parties also agreed to form working groups for the candidacy process for the posts, which have long been points of contention, the statement added.
Once finalized, the candidacies will be presented to representatives of the two sides.
At separate talks earlier this week, Libyan envoys at U.N.-led talks in Egypt agreed to hold a constitutional referendum ahead of the elections planned for later in the year. A fresh round of talks will be held in Egypt next month in which the "road map for the referendum and elections" will be decided upon.
Turkey on Friday welcomed the agreement reached by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) selecting the mechanism of the new executive authority that will remain in office until the elections as well as the announcement of the schedule for the prompt finalization of the process.
"Turkey, which attaches importance to Libya’s sovereignty, integrity and politcal unity, wishes the selection of a new unified executive authority soon. The prompt formation of a unified executive authority bears great importance not only for the preparations of the general elections planned to be held on 24 December 2021 but also for addressing the urgent needs of the friendly and brotherly Libyan people in the face of the deteriorating humanitarian situation caused by the aggression on Tripoli that started in April 2019 and the following oil blockade," the foreign ministry said in a written statement. It highlighted the leading role Turkey played in the Berlin conference through its constructive contributions, adding that its implementation of the conference's conclusions helped ensure the cease-fire, balancing the situation on the ground and allowing for the resumption of the political process.
Oil-rich Libya was plunged into chaos after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and split the country between the GNA and Haftar’s forces.
In the Libyan conflict, Russia, along with France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has supported Haftar against the legitimate Libyan government, backed by Turkey and Qatar.
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