Libya’s warring factions have embarked on a tenuous ceasefire in a nine-month war that has drawn in Russia and Turkey, following a call by the presidents of both countries to halt the fighting.
Forces loyal to eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched the war in April against the internationally recognised government, and the Tripoli-based government reduced violence as of midnight. While officials from each side accused the other of violating the peace, neither side has called off the truce.
The dramatic announcement by Haftar’s Libyan National Army after a series of gains in recent weeks followed a call for a ceasefire by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Looming over the conflict was a possible Turkish military intervention to defend Tripoli against Haftar’s forces, who are backed by Russian mercenaries.
The war, which has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced tens of thousands, threatens to further divide an oil-producing country wracked by violence since a NATO-backed revolt in 2011 toppled dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Haftar has resisted ending his offensive, arguing that he could take the capital and unseat
the government. International pressure had mounted for months as the war drew in outside powers, including Turkish-backed Syrian rebels deployed to defend Tripoli. The United Nations mission welcomed the truce and called on both sides to adhere to it.
The US, which had held Libya at arm’s length until Russian mercenaries were deployed in September, increased pressure on both sides to end the fighting in meetings with Haftar and a GNA leader in Rome. Putin said that the government hasn’t sent fighters.
Next, Germany plans to host a Libyan summit this month to enforce a UN arms embargo flouted by the backers of the rival factions.
“We have agreed that we will soon be able to issue invitations to a conference in Berlin,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after meeting Putin, who reiterated his call for a ceasefire.
It isn’t clear how the truce will be implemented or monitored. Haftar’s forces control eastern Libya and the south, where most of the oil fields are. The front lines in Tripoli’s suburbs are a patchwork of rival forces, some of them nominally under a central command.
The announcement of the truce “creates space for further dialogue,” Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said. A meeting between Italy, Turkey and Russia was expected to take place soon in preparation for the Berlin conference, Di Maio said in an interview with daily La Stampa. Italy has longstanding political and economic ties to Libya, and the government fears escalation of the conflict could create a new wave of refugees, stoking anti-migrant sentiment and weakening its consensus.