Erdoğan downplays Libya agreements hinting at spoiler role

Statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hours after the UN mission in Libya announced that the 5 + 5 military committee had reached an agreement on a permanent ceasefire, included a veiled threat to resume fighting.

Ankara is obviously disgruntled by the agreement, since one of the most prominent items in the deal is expelling all mercenaries from the country, which is aimed at ending Russian and Turkish presence and influence in Libya.

Erdogan described the ceasefire agreement as lacking in credibility and said that time will show its reliability. His statements were in response to questions from the press as he was coming out from performing Friday prayers in a mosque in Istanbul.

Erdogan expressed his belief that signing an agreement for a permanent ceasefire in Libya is not reliable. He explained that it was reached at the level of two delegates, one representing Khalifa Haftar, Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), and the other a military commander from Misrata representing the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.

He pointed out that the ceasefire agreement in Libya “is not an agreement at the highest level, and the days will show the extent of its steadfastness.”

“I hope that this ceasefire decision will be respected,” he added.

In an answer to a question about the consensus agreement regarding the withdrawal of mercenaries from Libya, Erdogan said, “We do not know the validity of (the decision) to withdraw mercenaries from there within three months.”

Observers were not surprised by Erdogan’s statements, as Libyan military leaders close to Ankara had previously hinted at resuming the fighting after Defence Minister Salah al-Din al-Nimroush pushed military reinforcements to a number of cities in the western region, accusing the LNA of planning to attack those cities, an accusation denied by the army’s spokesman.

Before that, Misrata militias affiliated with the Government of National Accord had conducted military manoeuvres near Sirte. These manoeuvres were considered a Turkish message to Washington and the UN mission that any attempts to marginalise Turkey and the militias will be met by the resumption of the war and thus aborting the settlement efforts led by the acting head of the UN mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams, and the US ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland.

The continued Turkish escalation reflects Ankara’s refusal to accept the idea of ​​the end of its role in Libya, which worries many of the countries involved in the Libyan file, especially Egypt, Algeria, France and Greece.

Many had linked the Turkish persistent encroachment in Libya to the U.S. green-light for Ankara to do so in order to counter Russian influence there. Turkey has, however, interpreted the matter as meaning that it was in a position to decide on the course of events in western Libya.  This explains Erdogan’s underestimation of the importance of the party representing the GNA, which is also divided. According to analysts, the representatives of the Government of National Accord in the Joint Military Committee (5 + 5) are in fact loyal to Prime Minister Sarraj and not followers of its Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Bashagha preferred not to comment on the agreement reached in Geneva, while Sarraj welcomed it.

On Friday, Sarraj said that the two delegations of the Libyan Joint Military Committee had reached a ceasefire agreement “that paves the way for the success of the remaining dialogue tracks.”

He added that “the permanent ceasefire agreement prevents any further spilling of blood and alleviates the suffering of the citizens and paves the way for the success of other economic and political dialogue tracks.”

Analysts, however, believe that the possibility of a new outbreak of fighting in Libya is not remote, especially in light of the United States’ insistence on not recognising any Russian role in the country. Such fears were reflected in statements by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres.

“I appeal to all concerned parties and regional powers to respect the terms of the ceasefire agreement and to ensure its implementation without delay,” Guterres said.

Guterres also called for the full implementation of the arms embargo imposed on Libya by the United Nations.

Despite the announcement of a temporary truce since last August, Ankara continues to send weapons to Libya, which raises questions about the ability of the United States—which is accused of encouraging Turkey to intervene in the country in the first place—to deter Ankara and force it to abide by any subsequent understandings that may include cancelling the agreement on the demarcation of maritime borders between the GNA and Turkey, especially in light of the escalation of local and European reactions calling the agreement illegal.

It is expected that political talks of the inter-Libyan dialogue will start on November 9 in the suburbs of the capital of Tunisia. These talks are expected to lead to the formation of a new executive authority in Libya.

The European Commission welcomed the announcement of the ceasefire in Libya on Friday and called for its implementation and the resumption of peace talks.

“The permanent ceasefire agreement is essential for the resumption of political dialogue,” European Union foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano told reporters, stressing that “it is also very important that this agreement be implemented.”

The United Nations envoy to Libya said that the two parties agreed to a complete and permanent ceasefire in various parts of the country, and that it would take effect immediately.

According to the agreement, the two sides will form a joint military committee to operate in an operations room leading a limited force of ordinary personnel.

Its mission will be to enumerate and classify all armed groups in Libya, with the help of the United Nations, and work on whether and how to integrate their fighters into state institutions.

A new joint police operations room will be charged with securing the areas from which the forces of both sides will withdraw. The two sides will work with the United Nations mission to find a mechanism for monitoring the truce.

 

The article was first published in the Arab Weekly, and reprinted with permission.