Libya's Warring Sides Discuss Implementing Cease-fire

CAIRO (AP) -- Military leaders from Libya's warring sides arrived Monday in the oasis town of Ghadames, the United Nations said, for the first face-to-face talks inside Libya since last year's attack on the capital by the forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter.

The fifth round of talks, brokered by the U.N., has come less than two weeks after the two sides inked a permanent cease-fire in Geneva on Oct. 23, a move the U.N. billed as historic after years of fighting that has split the North African country in two.

The U.N. mission in Libya said the meetings through Wednesday would discuss implementing and monitoring the cease-fire, along with how to verify possible violations.

The October cease-fire deal included the return of armed groups and military units “to their camps” and that all foreign mercenaries be out of the oil-rich country within three months.

Brig. Gen. Khaled al-Mahjoub, the head of the mobilization department at Hifter's self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, said in comments aired by the satellite news channel Al-Arabia that LAAF's units would return to its camps “in parallel with” the exit of foreign mercenaries.

Thousands of foreign fighters, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese and Chadians, have been brought to Libya by both sides, according to U.N. experts.

The two sides also agreed on exchanging prisoners and opening up air and land transit across the country's divided territory.

Television footage showed the head of the U.N. support mission for Libya, Stephanie Williams, landing in Ghadames, to attend the talks. The two sides also arrived in Ghadames, a UNESCO World Heritage site known as “the Pearl of the Desert."

The U.N.-brokered talks have come ahead of Libyan political talks scheduled Nov. 9 aimed at discussing possible elections.

Libya is split between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country's east. The two sides are backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers. The country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Hifter's forces launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture Tripoli, the seat of the U.N.-supported government. But his campaign collapsed in June.

Fighting has since died down amid international pressure on both sides to avert an attack on the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya's major oil export terminals, and to start talks aiming at ending the years-long conflict.