US Welcomes UN-Backed Intra-Libyan Talks, Urges Speedy Ceasefire Process

Key to Libya’s recovery is the protection of its oil fields
June 17, 2020 Updated: June 17, 2020

News Analysis

The United States welcomed the resumption of talks led by the United Nations between two Libyan warring sides, the U.N.-backed government and the leader of the armed forces which controls a big part of eastern Libya, with a goal of achieving a ceasefire and relaunching intra-Libyan negotiations.

After the U.N.-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj made significant gains against the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, Egypt proposed a political solution for Libya to implement a ceasefire and achieve peace.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on June 10 and praised his efforts to promote political reconciliation in Libya, the White House said.

Russia and the United Arab Emirates welcomed the plan, while Germany said U.N.-backed talks were key to the peace process.

The LNA, which is supported by Egypt, the UAE, and Russia, recently reentered U.N. security talks with the GNA to implement a ceasefire.

“‘The agreement between the GNA and the LNA to reenter U.N. security talks was a good first step, very positive. Quick and good faith negotiations are now required to implement a ceasefire and relaunch the U.N.-led intra-Libyan political talks,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a press briefing on June 10.

“It’s time for all Libyans on all sides to act so that neither Russia nor any other country can interfere in Libya’s sovereignty for its own gain,” Pompeo added.

Pompeo stressed the importance of Libya regaining control over its oil fields. “Putting Libya on the path to economic recovery means preserving Libyan oil facilities and strong access to the National Oil Corporation,” he said.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington on May 20, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) declared force majeure on exports from its El Sharara oilfield on June 9, after an armed group repeatedly halted production just days after output had resumed following a blockade that had lasted five months, according to Reuters.

NOC warned in a statement on June 12 that “the continuing presence of these armed groups presents a significant danger and threatens to cause sustained damage to the infrastructure of the field, jeopardizing investments exceeding $4 billion of public money in the field’s assets and facilities.”

Due to military gains achieved by the Libyan Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, production has resumed in recent days at the El Sharara and El Feel fields.

However, the production was disrupted again on June 8 when a local armed group, affiliated with the eastern-based LNA, stormed the field and ordered output to stop, NOC said in a statement, according to Reuters.

During the months of blockade, NOC said armed militia had prevented maintenance on a 16,000-barrel tank, which collapsed as a result.

Before a five-month blockade by forces aligned with the LNA began in January, the field had produced 300,000 barrels per day, equivalent to about a third of Libya’s output at the time.

Libyan people face challenges due to intra-Libyan conflict, economic hardship, and the outbreak of the CCP virus, also known as the novel coronavirus, which have been exacerbated by the five-month shutdown of oil fields.

“Using critical infrastructure that belongs to the Libyan people as a tool of war, whether for oil that feeds the economy or water upon which Libyans depend on for survival, is reprehensible and it must end,” said Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker at a press briefing on June 11.

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Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, head out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya, on April 7, 2019. (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters)

US, UN Call for Ceasefire and Political Talks

Despite the end of the LNA’s siege on Tripoli and the peace process for Libya initiated by the Egyptian president that opened the way for a political dialog between the LNA and GNA, “fighting has intensified with the involvement of foreign actors,” Schenker said.

The United States is especially concerned with the involvement of Russian Wagner mercenaries and the inflow of Russian military equipment and weapons, which in turn led to Turkish intervention, Schenker said.

The involvement of foreign actors in Libya challenges U.S. interests and regional stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and is also against the will of Libyan people who “want peace and an end to foreign intervention,” Schenker said.

The U.S. Africa Command assessed that “Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors operating on the ground there,” according to a statement.

“The Russian fighter aircraft arrived in Libya, from an airbase in Russia, after transiting Syria where it is assessed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin,” said the statement. Russian military aircraft are likely to provide air support for private military contractors of the Wagner Group that supports the LNA, the statement said.

Russia denied this assessment. The Chairman of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, General Viktor Bondaryev stated that if any Russian origin military aircraft is indeed in Libya it could have originated from a number of other countries as Russian military airplanes are exported worldwide, according to the Jamestown Foundation.

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Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar at the Parliament in Athens on Jan. 17, 2020. (Reuters)

Both GNA and LNA engaged in talks hosted by the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in the 5+5 format, involving five senior officers appointed by each side, according to a UNSMIL statement.

The United States urged both sides of the Libyan conflict to implement a ceasefire and achieve a long-term solution to the conflict through good faith intra-Libyan negotiations, according to Schenker.

The United States is also concerned with the discovery of mass graves and bodies of civilians in areas retaken from the LNA. “We are similarly concerned that a GNA offensive on Sirte would have serious humanitarian consequences. When armed groups and their external backers escalate, the Libyan people suffer,” Schenker said.

The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres “is deeply shocked by the discovery of multiple mass graves in recent days, the majority of them in Tarhouna,” said the spokesman of the Secretary-General in a statement. Guterres called for “a thorough and transparent investigation, and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.”

Guterres also reiterated “his call for an immediate end to the fighting in Libya in order to save lives and end civilian suffering,” the statement said.

Haftar’s LNA has been waging an offensive since April 2019 to seize the capital Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord.

Reuters contributed to this report.