In Depth

Libya peace talks collapse after rocket attack

Both sides in the civil war, supported by powerful foreign governments, seem increasingly intent on fighting their way to total victory

The United Nations called on the warring factions in Libya’s brutal and prolonged civil war to return to the negotiating table after the country’s Government of National Accord (GNA), besieged in Tripoli, withdrew from talks in Geneva.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj made the decision to end negotiations late on Tuesday after the forces of General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) launch a rocket attack on Tripoli’s sea port in the middle of UN-hosted peace talks over the weekend.

A truce has been in place since the the talks began last month, but the attack was the latest of a series of violations by both sides, and the talks have now been unilaterally suspended.

The GNA implored foreign powers to come to its aid. “There can be no peace under the bombing,” it said. “We are announcing the suspension of our participation in the military talks taking place in Geneva until firm positions are adopted against the aggressor.”

In a statement released yesterday, the UN’s mission to Libya said it calls for “an end to the escalation and provocative actions, especially expansion of the conflict area, and urges all parties to resort to dialogue as the only means to end the crisis.”

Both sides still hope for military victory

As the humanitarian impact of the crisis worsens, and forces build up around Tripoli, on Monday the EU agreed to enforce the UN’s arms embargo by sending naval vessels as well as an air and satellite component to curtail the influx of weapons.

However, despite UN and EU hopes of mediating peace, the chances of a political agreement seem to be fading, as both “the warring sides, especially [Haftar], feel emboldened by their continued support from regional and Western powers with high stakes in Libya,” says The Washington Post.

The Libyan civil war is a complex conflict involving numerous internal and external forces, but the main two are the internationally recognised GNA, besieged now for months in the country’s capital, Tripoli, and the rebel LNA, which is significantly more potent militarily.

Still, the war has come to an impasse at the gates of the capital, and the UN says more than 1,000 people have died, and around 140,000 have been displaced.

”People are worried that heavy fighting might renew at any time. People in densely populated areas, they are worried that the attack on the port could be the beginning of other attacks in residential areas,“ reported Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed from Tripoli.

The city’s populace is experiencing ”panic, fear, and frustration,“ he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been full-throated in his support for the government in Tripoli. He has already sent hundreds of islamist fighters from Syria to help, and has criticised the EU’s decision to enforce the arms embargo. “The EU does not have the right to make any decision concerning Libya,” he said.

He also assured the GNA of continued Turkish support, implying his objective was victory, not concord. “If a fair agreement did not come out of the meetings in which the international community is also involved... we will support the legitimate government in Tripoli having control over the entire country,” he said.

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Why did the LNA violate the truce?

Haftar’s LNA, which is supported by a number of foreign governments, most prominently Russia, has not denied it was behind the attack on the port - one of its main military objectives - instead saying it carried it out because of the presence of a vessel carrying weapons from Turkey.

Ankara has denied the charge. Admitting it would mean it was in violation of the Berlin Conference of 19 January, in which foreign governments agreed not to fuel the conflict by supplying arms to their prefered side - the same agreement the EU has now sent ships to enforce.

Despite the assurances made in Berlin, says Al Jazeera, “little has changed on the ground since then.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently called the conflict a fully-fledged “proxy war.”

Who are the rebels?

LNA leader Haftar was a general in the army of Muammar Gaddafi, who was overthrown and killed during a Nato-backed uprising in 2011. He was captured during Libya’s conflict with Chad in 1987, and was taken by the CIA to Virginia, where he obtained US citizenship.

“During the Reagan administration, he was a CIA asset who the United States hoped could lead a coup against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator,” The New York Times reports.

Two decades later he returned to his homeland, and was a leader in the forces that toppled the regime in 2011.

Libya’s hoped-for transition to democracy devolved into civil war, however, and Haftar was appointed to lead the forces of the country’s secular, Benghazi-based parliament - backed by the armed forces - against the official government in Tripoli, which he says is illegitimate and in thrall to Islamists.

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