By Sami Zaptia.
London, 5 January 2021:
The commander of the Operations Room for the Liberation of Sirte-Jufra, Brigadier General Ibrahim Bayt al-Mal, yesterday linked the opening of the main coastal road between the east and west of the country with the withdrawal of mercenaries and the removal of mines.
“We will not give instructions to open the road between the east and west of the country before the withdrawal of mercenaries and demining,” Beit al-Mal said in remarks published by Operation Volcano of Rage.
Beit al-Mal did, however, announce his forces’ acceptance of the maps detailing where mines have been laid to begin the process of removing them themselves.
The pro Tripoli forces accuse the pro Hafter forces, including foreign mercenaries that include Wagner forces, of laying mines across a wide area in the Sirte-Jufra area. Tripoli regards foreign forces supporting Hafter as mercenaries but sees Turkish, Syrian and other forces supporting it as legal military help as it views itself as the legal government of Libya.
Splits within pro-Tripoli forces?
However, there seems to be splits within the pro-Tripoli forces, with the doves prepared to reopen the road as a confidence-building measure while the more hawkish militias insisting on withdrawal of mercenaries and demining.
It will be recalled that the UNSMIL-brokered 5+5 Joint Military Commission had prescribed for the reopening of the west-east coastal road as part of the October permanent ceasefire agreement between Libya’s western forces supporting the internationally recognized Tripoli government led by Faiez Serraj and the Khalifa Hafter forces supported by (eastern) House of Representatives head Ageela Saleh.
Libya’s 23 October ceasefire agreement
It will be recalled that the 23 October immediate and permanent ceasefire in all parts of Libya agreed by the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission (JMC) during talks in Geneva called for:
- The withdrawal of all forces from fighting fronts
- The withdrawal of all foreign mercenaries and forces from Libya within 90 days from 23 October
- The suspension of all training of troops domestically and abroad
- The suspension of all international defence agreements
- The formation of a Joint Operations Room for a joint police and military force
- The identification and categorization of all militias and a mechanism for their reintegration (DDR).
- Confidence-building measures by resuming travel between west and east Libya
- Ending hate speech
- Exchanging prisoners
- Reorganizing the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG)
- Monitoring of the ceasefire
- Referring the agreement to the UN Security Council to adopt in a Resolution.
The 5 + 5 Joint Military Commission’s 10-12 November Sirte meeting statement
At the end of its 10-12 November Sirte meeting the 5 + 5 Joint Military Commission had issued the following statement:
First: The first stage of opening the coastal road:
- Begin to clear the coastal road at a distance that allows safe passage for citizens. For this purpose, the competent committee has begun preparing the mechanisms and operational steps on the ground and directing the removal of mines and explosive remnants of war in cooperation with the United Nations from this road and the areas specified at this stage.
- Exiting all mercenaries and foreign fighters from the targeted area by opening the coastal road and gathering them in Tripoli and Benghazi to start in a next stage of their departure from Libyan lands.
- The Joint Military Committee 5 + 5 assigned the committee to evacuate the front lines to withdraw the vehicles and heavy weapons from the targeted area for opening the coastal road and returning the forces to their units in coordination with the Security Arrangements Committee to secure the area after it is evacuated from the military forces.
Second: It was agreed that the second phase would start immediately after the end of the first phase, and it included the exit of mercenaries and foreign fighters from the area of all contact lines and their withdrawal to Benghazi and Tripoli, a first step to start the process of their departure from the Libyan lands, a next step.
Third: Regarding security arrangements in the target area, the Joint Military Committee decided the following:
- Approval of the joint security arrangements related to the entire area of contact lines that have been identified by the 5 + 5 Committee.
- The adoption of urgent security arrangements that allow the opening of the coastal road and facilitate traffic flow.
Fourth: The 5 + 5 Joint Military Committee decided to meet again as soon as possible.