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Rival Libyan leaders reach ceasefire, election agreement

Libya's Prime Minister Serraj and General Hifter have agreed to a ceasefire and speedy elections after a day of peace talks in Paris. Their joint statement provides a glimmer of hope for the war-torn nation.

After a day of talks brokered by the French government at a chateau west of Paris, the UN-backed politician Fayez Serraj (L) and Egyptian-backed Khalifa Hifter (R) have agreed on a nationwide conditional ceasefire and speedy elections for the war-torn country on the North African coast.

"We commit to a ceasefire and to refrain from any use of armed force for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counterterrorism," the two Libyan leaders said, referencing Libya's ongoing fight against Islamic militants.

With respect to elections, Serraj and Hifter "struck an agreement to hold elections next spring," French President Emmanuel Macron announced. 

Earlier this month, Serraj had called for elections to be held in March 2018.    

Serraj and Hifter's end-of-day, 10-point joint statement was in line with a draft statement released earlier by Macron's office. It also expressed both Libyan leaders' commitment to "building the rule of law" in the politically volatile nation.

"The cause of peace has made a lot of progress today," Macron told reporters assembled at the La Celle-Saint-Cloud chateau after the rival Libyan leaders shook hands. "The Mediterranean (region) needs this peace," the president added. 

A tank from General Khalifa Hifter rolls down the streets of Benghazi, Libya

A tank from General Khalifa Hifter's Libyan National Army rolls down the streets of Benghazi in 2016. Hifter's troops fought against Islamic militants in the city.

Looking for peace

Tuesday's series of discussions between Serraj, head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, and Hifter, leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army based in the east, were the first since the two rivals sat down in Abu Dhabi in May for what was subsequently described a "significant breakthrough."

The Abu Dhabi talks ended without an official statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron met individually with both Serraj and Hifter before the two Libyan leaders sat down together with the United Nations' recently appointed special envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame.

The French government and European Union officials hope that Serraj and Hifter's Paris meeting will be a significant step toward achieving a political resolution for Libya. French officials had expressed hope that Tuesday's round of talks would end with a "simple but constructive" joint declaration from the two Libyans. The statement now issued could provide a foundation for the UN's Salame to use in future Libyan peace talks.

Read more: Former UN special envoy to Libya says 'inhumane things are happening in Libya'

Watch video 26:00

Martin Kobler on Conflict Zone

A split nation

Since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, the oil-rich nation has been beset by political infighting that has allowed jihadi militants to make inroads into the territory and human smugglers to prey on migrants hoping to make it to Europe.

The proposed ceasefire would not affect the country's battle against Islamic militants. Its success would also depend on whether or not the numerous militias active across the Libyan landscape also agree to adhere to the measure.

After a 2014 political split that resulted in two Libyan parliaments – one in the capital, Tripoli, and one in the eastern city of Tobruk – the UN eventually brokered a political agreement in late 2015, tapping the Tobruk-based Serraj to head up a new unity government. After moving the newly formed UN-supported body to Tripoli, Serraj sought to consolidate his power over Hifter's military forces, which remained in the country's east.

Hifter gives his political backing to the eastern administration, which has remained in Tobruk and refuses to recognize the GNA's legitimacy. The general styles himself as a patriotic defender of Libya against Islamic militants.

 

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