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Libyan factions sign countrywide UN-brokered cease-fire

Libyan cease-fire reached

The rival sides in Libya’s conflict signed a permanent cease-fire Friday, a deal the United Nations billed as historic after years of fighting that has split the North African country in two. But skepticism over whether the agreement would hold began emerging almost immediately.

The breakthrough, which among other things orders foreign mercenaries out of the country within three months, sets the stage for political talks in November to find a lasting solution to the chaos unleashed after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Previous diplomatic initiatives to end the war have repeatedly collapsed — but the U.N.-brokered deal aims to cement a months-long lull in fighting and boost the political process.

“I am honoured to be among you today to witness a moment that will go down in history,” said Stephanie Turco Williams, the top U.N. envoy for Libya, who led mediation talks this week in Geneva. She did, however, express some caution, noting that a “long and difficult” road remains ahead.

It's not clear how the cease-fire will be enforced — given the patchwork of militias in Libya — but Williams said armed groups and military units had agreed to return “to their camps” and that the deal would take effect immediately.

Foreign mercenaries will depart “from all Libyan territories land, air and sea" within three months, she added, referring to the thousands of Syrian fighters deployed by Turkey and Russia on opposite sides of the war. The agreement also involved the formation of a joint military force and a mechanism to monitor violations, Williams said, and will be sent to the U.N. Security Council.

But shortly after the announcement of the deal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it did not appear to be credible — even as he expressed hope that all parties would stick to it.

Speaking after Friday prayers in Istanbul, Erdogan said the cease-fire decision did not come from top officials but from lower-level ones. “Time will show how long it will last,” he added.

Following Libya's descent into chaos, a U.N.-recognized government holds sway in the capital, Tripoli, in western Libya, while the forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter run most of the east and south. Turkey is the main patron of the Tripoli government, while the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt back Hifter. Both sides are also supported by an array of fractious militias, though the administrations often struggle to control them. In much of the country, heavily armed militias hold sway and have repeatedly undermined cease-fire attempts.

Ali Abushahma, a field commander for the administration in Tripoli and the head of its delegation, said: “We have had enough suffering, enough bloodshed."

“I appeal to all Libya: Be one hand,” he said, warning of polarization by factions.

Meanwhile, Amraja Alamami, the head of Hifter’s delegation, pledged in a short speech to “implement what had been agreed upon in Geneva.”

The meetings this week mark the fourth round of talks involving the Joint Military Commission under Williams' watch. The Geneva-based talks come ahead of a political forum in Tunisia in November. That forum aims to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections,” the U.N. mission said.

Friday's deal follows a series of breakthroughs since fighting came to a halt in June, when Hifter's 14-month campaign to capture Tripoli collapsed.



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