2021-10-09 09:20:39 Libya’s rival sides sign initial deal on mercenaries pullout | Armed Groups News

Libya’s rival sides sign initial deal on mercenaries pullout | Armed Groups News

The issue of mercenaries and foreign fighters has long been a stumbling block ahead of Libya’s historic general elections.

Libya’s warring factions have reached an initial agreement on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the North African country, which is seen as a critical step toward unifying the country’s warring factions.

The United Nations mission mediating between the rivals said on Friday that a 10-member joint military commission (JMC 5+5), with five representatives from each side, signed a “gradual and balanced” withdrawal agreement at the end of three days of UN-facilitated talks in Geneva.

It went on to say that the plan, along with an implementation mechanism, would serve as “the cornerstone for the gradual, balanced, and sequenced withdrawal” of mercenaries and foreign forces.

The UN Special Envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, praised the move as “another breakthrough achievement.”

The agreement reached on Friday “creates a positive momentum that should be built upon to move forward towards a stable and democratic stage, including the holding of free, credible, and transparent national elections on December 24, with results accepted by all,” according to Kubis.

The United Nations has welcomed the signing of an action plan that is consistent with a cease-fire agreement, relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, and the outcomes of last year’s Berlin Conference.

Civil war and mercenaries

The issue of mercenaries and foreign fighters has long been a stumbling block ahead of Libya’s historic general elections.

Last December, then-UN acting envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, estimated that there had been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya over the previous few years, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese, and Chadians.

Libya has been in chaos since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The oil-rich country was later split for years between rival governments in Tripoli, the capital, and the country’s east. Different foreign powers and militia groups support each side.

In 2019, renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, allied with the east-based administration, launched an offensive to retake Tripoli from armed militias loosely allied with the UN-recognized but weak government in the country’s capital.

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and France all backed Haftar. However, his 14-month campaign and march on Tripoli ended in June 2020, when Turkey sent troops to assist the UN-recognized administration, which also had the support of Qatar and Italy.

Following the largely stalemated fighting, subsequent UN-sponsored peace talks resulted in a ceasefire last October and the installation of an interim government, which is expected to lead the country into the December elections.

The ceasefire agreement also called for the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries within three months, which was never carried out.

Following the signing of the agreement in Geneva, the rival sides stated that they would return to their bases and concerned international parties “to support the implementation of this plan and the respect of Libya’s sovereignty.”

The agreement also called for the deployment of UN observers to monitor the ceasefire before the withdrawal plan was implemented.

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Libya’s rival sides sign initial deal on mercenaries pullout | Armed Groups News