By Sami Zaptia.
London, 8 January 2020:
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan and Russia’s counterpart Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire in Libya’s fighting as of midnight 12 January. The call came as Libya related diplomatic activity intensified.
Turkey supports the internationally recognized government based in Tripoli led by Faiez Serraj while Russia backs the Khalifa Hafter led forces which launched an attack on the capital on 4 April.
After a recent security and military agreement with Tripoli, Turkey has said it will send military advisers, while Russian military contractors have been deployed alongside Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).
However, after talks between the two presidents in Istanbul today, Turkey and Russia called jointly for an end of hostilities, normalization of life in Tripoli and other cities, and U.N.-sponsored peace talks.
The conflict is undermining regional security and triggering irregular migration, the further spread of weapons, terrorism and other criminal activities including illicit trafficking, their statement said.
With a recent increase in fighting around Tripoli and the takeover of Sirte by Hafter’s forces on Monday, it is still unclear if the two sides can produce a ceasefire on the ground. Hafter’s forces also announced an extended no-fly zone to cover Tripoli’s Mitiga airport today.
The Tripoli aligned forces in Sirte, mainly from Misrata, said that they had withdrawn from Sirte to avoid bloodshed. They had controlled Sirte since driving Islamic State forces from Sirte in 2016.
The successful takeover of Sirte was put down mainly to a local force, the 604 Brigade which is a Madkhali Salafist brigade, turning on the Tripoli-aligned forces. The Hafter forces also took advantage of the fact that Misratan brigades had been diverted to defend Tripoli, leaving a much smaller presence in Sirte.
The 604 Brigade was created in Tripoli in 2015 after Daesh took Sirte. It consists in large part of members of the Ferjan tribe (Haftar’s own tribe) and the Qaddadfa tribe (Qaddafi’s tribe), although other members are from Tripoli and other western parts of the country.
There had been speculation that Hafter would attempt to take Sirte for months – since his Tripoli attack in April 2019. However, it is now speculated that he has now pre-empted a possible move on his Jufra airbase to the south of Sirte and even the oil crescent itself by pro-Tripoli forces bolstered by Turkish support
While the capture of Sirte is a major propaganda and morale boost for the Hafter’s forces, and for the time being reinforces its alliances elsewhere in the country, it is unclear how long it can last.
Meanwhile, Libya-related diplomatic activity intensified as Faiez Serraj visited the EU in Brussels and Hafter met Italian Prime Minister Conte in Rome. There were conflicting reports on whether Serraj was also going to meet Conte in Rome.
Sarraj was in Algiers on 6 January for discussions with the new Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune and other Algerian officials. He also met with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who conveniently happened to be in Algiers on a supposedly separate visit. The meetings took place against the background of suggestions that the Tripoli government, Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia have become allies against Haftar and any possible Egyptian incursion in Libya.
While Algeria supports the Sarraj government, it is opposed to foreign intervention and any possible Egyptian influence in Libya. At their meeting, the Algerian president told Sarraj that Tripoli was “a red line no one should cross”.
Commenting on Libya at a press conference on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “There is chaos in Libya now”.
He revealed that he had discussed the situation in Libya with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Erdogan. He added that he will also speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Libya.
He added that he discussed with the Turkish president “ways to restore stability to Libya.”
Greece, Cyprus, France and Egypt
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministers of Greece, Cyprus, France and Egypt rejected two deals signed between Turkey and the Tripoli Government, saying they further undermine regional stability and are both “null and void.”.
The four countries said that the Turkey-Libya maritime agreement is against international law and violates the sovereign rights of the states of the region.