Libya's Government Announces Cease-Fire, Calls For Elections

CAIRO (AP) -- Libya's U.N.-supported government Friday announced a cease-fire across the country and called for demilitarizing the strategic city of Sirte, which is controlled by rival forces.

In a separate statement Aguila Saleh, speaker of the rival east-based House of Representatives, also called for a cease-fire. The announcements came amid fears of an escalation in the more than 9-year-old conflict.

Both administrations called for an end to an oil blockade imposed by the camp of military commander Khalifa Hifter since earlier this year. Hifter is an ally to the parliament speaker. They also called for oil revenues, the country's main source of revenue, to flow into the bank account of the National Oil Corporation outside Libya.

Powerful tribes in eastern Libya loyal to Khalifa Hifter closed export terminals and choked off major pipelines at the start of the year. That was aimed at pressuring their rivals in the Tripoli-based government.

Fayez Sarraj, head of the Government of National Accord in the capital Tripoli, also announced parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in March.

The development comes amid international pressure and fears of a new escalation in the chaotic proxy war, as rival sides mobilize for a battle over Sirte, the gateway to the country's major oil export terminals, which are under Hifter's control.

Both statements called for demilitarizing the city of Sirte and the Jufra area in central Libya, and a joint police force to be responsible for security there.

There was no immediate comment form Hifter's army, but Hifter agreed on an Egyptian initiative in June that included a cease-fire.

The U.N. Support Mission in Libya welcomed both statements, and called for the expulsion of all foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya. Both sides of the conflict are supported by thousands of mercenaries.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Hifter's forces launched an offensive in April 2019 trying to capture the capital Tripoli. But his campaign collapsed in June when the Tripoli-allied militias, with Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his forces from the outskirts of Tripoli and other western towns.

The chaos in the oil-rich country has worsened in recent months as foreign backers increasingly intervene, despite pledges to the contrary at a high-profile peace summit in Berlin earlier this year.

Hifter is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Turkey, a bitter rival of Egypt and the U.A.E. in a broader regional struggle over political Islam, is the main patron of the Tripoli forces, which are also backed by the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar.

Hifter's offensive on Tripoli has deeply polarized the already divided country and aborted U.N. efforts to hold a peace conference more than a year ago.