By Sami Zaptia.
London, 30 April 2020:
The Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) announced on Wednesday the unilateral suspension of all of its military operations, in response to what it called ‘‘calls by the international community and sister countries’’ and as a ‘‘humanitarian truce during Ramadan’’.
In a statement during a press conference, Ahmed Mesmari, the LNA’s official spokesperson, announced that on the occasion of the holy fasting month of Ramadan “in recognition and in response to calls from brotherly and friendly countries calling for a cessation of hostilities during this holy month, the General Command announces the cessation of all military operations on its part.”
The statement stressed that “any penetration to stop military operations by terrorist militias is an immediate and very harsh response”. He added that “We assure you that there is no turning back from the goal for which our heroes paid their lives and blood, even if cowardly traitors are called mercenaries of the whole world.”
On a related note Mesmari said that the coming days will see the launch of a “constitutional declaration under which a road map will be drawn up for the next phase”. He added that this upcoming roadmap aims to realize Libyans’ dreams in a safe and stable country and that it will satisfy them.
In calling on the international community to support Hafter’s announcement he said it has two things: either “supporting security, stability and peace” or “armed chaos and terrorist militias”.
It will be recalled that the unilateral declaration of a Ramadan truce comes on the back of an international call for a Ramadan truce last week in a joint statement by EU High Representative Josep Borrell and the Foreign Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian of France, Heiko Maas of Germany and Luigi Di Maio of Italy called for a Ramadan truce in Libya.
But it also comes on the back of two major political announcements by House of Representatives (HoR) head Ageela Saleh and LNA commander Khalifa Hafter.
Last Thursday, Saleh launched a new 8-point political initiative to reform the current Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) as a way out of Libya’s current political impasse. Hafter, meanwhile, announced a unilateral revocation of the internationally recognized LPA – in what was widely described as a coup d’état – and seemed to appoint himself as sole ruler of eastern Libya. His announcement was rejected by the UN and leading international powers.
It is unclear how the opposing forces defending Tripoli and aligned to the internationally recognized government led by Faiez Serraj will react to this unilaterally declared ceasefire. They had in the past accused Hafter of breaking numerous previously announced ceasefires.
The question must be asked: Why has Hafter chosen this particular point in time to announce a ceasefire having chosen to ignore all previous ones? There is an inevitable suspicion that this could be because his forces are on the backfoot having recently lost a string of north western coastal cities and towns, are pinned down at Wittya airbase and are on the defensive on the Tarhuna front.
It is also not unreasonable to speculate that Hafter’s forces, and his international backers, need a timeout to regroup and rearm. Politically, it could also be a face-saving tactic to resume political dialogue – having failed militarily.
The conundrum facing the forces defending Tripoli is: is it in their interest to stop fighting now and lose momentum having made so much progress recently and having been on the defensive in the fighting for most of the year since April 2019?
The announcement also puts the forces defending Tripoli in a moral conundrum. Throughout the fighting – since Hafter’s launched his attack on Tripoli – they have rightly maintained the higher moral ground being the victim as opposed to the aggressor. No doubt international pressure, the kind that Hafter has disregarded with impunity, will build on them to accept the unilaterally announced truce and maybe lose the Tripoli forces a strategic military advantage.
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