The ceasefire agreement signed by Libya’s warring sides last week puts Syrian mercenaries deployed by Turkey in the crosshairs, former Turkish Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış told Ahval in a podcast.
The United Nations’ Libya mission announced on Friday that the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libyan National Army (LNA), led by rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, agreed to “a permanent ceasefire in all areas of Libya”. The GNA is backed by Turkey, while Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, back Haftar.
The deal, marked by the U.N. as a “historic achievement”, stipulates all mercenaries and foreign fighters to leave Libya within three months.
“Here, the main goal is the withdrawal of foreign troops that Turkey provided support. We have to accept that Turkish-backed troops are the target of the deal. Now, everyone will turn … to Turkey and will pressure Turkey on the matter,” Yakış said.
Turkey stepped up its military support to the GNA’s forces in Dec. 2019, providing arms, intelligence and know-how, along with thousands of Syrian mercenaries, many of whom had links to jihadist groups. The provision has helped the Tripoli-based GNA widen its military counteroffensive, including the shelling and capturing of LNA’s Watiya airbase, a once-major threat to the capital.
The Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military company, has also been reportedly operating in Libya since December, backing the LNA.
The 5+5 Joint Military Commission, under the aegis of the U.N., reached what the body called an “important turning point towards peace and stability in Libya”, following talks in Geneva with Egypt’s efforts.
U.N. acting Libya envoy Stephanie William said the warring parties agreed that “all military units and armed groups on the front lines shall return to their camps” and all mercenaries and foreign fighters will leave Libyan territory within a three-month period.
Since Egyptian efforts led to the latest ceasefire in Libya, Cairo’s main aim would be eliminating Turkey’s presence in the North African country, Yakış said.
“The ceasefire agreement initiative started in Egypt. Since the Turkish-backed, Tripoli-based government has strong links with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt vehemently opposed to Turkey’s intervention in Libya,” he said.
Turkey has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamist political organisation, whose ousting from the Egyptian government has driven a wedge in Turkish-Egyptian relations. Ankara cut off diplomatic ties with Cairo following a military coup that overthrew Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and replaced him with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013.
On June 6, Sisi introduced the Cairo Declaration following his talks with Haftar in Cairo, which proposed a ceasefire between Libya’s warring parties, a U.N.-supervised election of a Libyan presidential council and drafting a constitutional declaration to regulate elections in a later stage.
The Cairo Declaration requires foreign mercenaries to pull out from Libya and militias to disarm and dismantle so that the Libyan National Army (LNA), in cooperation with security apparatuses, can take over their security and military responsibilities.
Turmoil in Libya has been specifically harmful to Egypt because of the long border they share. Egypt is concerned that continued Turkish support to local Islamist militias would protract the conflict, threatening various foreign interests, especially those of Libya’s neighbouring countries.
Analysts have noted earlier that some Libyan factions used previous ceasefires to import weapons to gain an advantage over those who abided by the cessation of hostilities. The U.N. has repeatedly accused Turkey, Russia and the UAE of “blatantly” defying its international arms embargo on Libya.
It was not immediately clear whether Russia and Turkey, which have been negotiating a separate Libyan ceasefire deal together, had agreed to withdraw all their personnel. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday that the U.N.-brokered settlement did not inspire trust and was not a ceasefire at the “highest echelons”.
He also questioned “putschist” Haftar’s credibility in talks. “Time will tell whether the ceasefire will be permanent,” he said.
The deal has been met with scepticism by some Libyan observers who see it as an entry point towards potentially tangible, long-lasting peace in the country, rather than a done deal in and of itself, according to BBC.