Libya: the Geneva truce does not stop the conflict

(To Filippo Del Monte)
26/10/20

The signing of the ceasefire in Libya in Geneva does not end the conflict but opens a new phase. In fact, we cannot yet speak of stabilization or normalization of the situation in the former Italian colony which has fallen into civil war since 2011.

The scenarios that arise - net of the peace talks that will begin in Tunis within the first ten days of November - remain however jagged as the struggle for the succession to Sarraj and to obtain important scraps of power in the future Libyan unitary executive is already started.

The protagonists of this underground clash are the President of the Parliament of Tobruk Aguila Saleh Issa, the Minister of the Interior from Tripoli Fathi Bashagha and the Deputy Prime Minister of Tripoli Ahmed Maiteg. On the first weighs the sword of Damocles of the weakened but still fundamental presence in the maintenance of the balance in Cyrenaica of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, bitter enemy of Sarraj and of the Tripoli instances who remains perched in arms in the "crescent" Sirte-Al Jufra awaiting the events ; the second is elbowing to strengthen his position in Tripoli and, more generally, as an international interlocutor but his links with the Measurat militias (skeptical about the effectiveness of the Geneva agreements) and Sarraj's hostility towards him are his weaknesses; Maiteg is the one who most of all in this phase is committed to reaching a truce with his Cyrenaic counterpart by signing an ambiguous agreement with Haftar on the reopening of the oil wells and the resumption of production which still seems to hold and have obtained the desired results.

Despite the ceasefire in force, the situation in Libya is not calm: the political-military undergrowth of the country - fed by small militias, armed criminal gangs and local ràs fighting for direct control of the territory - in recent days has animated the days of negotiations with firefights in the main cities not only for settling of scores related to the control of illegal rackets, but also for issues of close political topicality such as the abrupt changes in the balance of power that the truce could generate (and which in part has already generated). Not to mention the military danger - and the consequent political problem - represented by the militias of Fezzan, a southern province of Libya which literally plunged into anarchy during the conflict and the last gathering center for guerrillas linked to ISIS or minor Islamist-radical groups. A question that of Fezzan is inseparable from the management of cross-border trafficking in drugs, weapons and human beings (v.link) that international diplomacy does not seem to want to face, for the moment, but on which the fate of the truce depends in part, since the stabilization of the Fezzan passes that of the porous southern border.

But the "internal" issue is not the only military issue on the plate: within three months, according to the UN Sherpas engaged in the negotiations, all foreign militias and foreign regular troops (including Turkish ones) should leave Libya, but remain the problem of appointing a credible "controller" - and a tug-of-war on this is already underway between Russia and Turkey - to implement and verify the actual abandonment of the camp by the thousands of Syrian mercenaries in the pay of the Turks who have supported with their Kalashnikovs the shaky Tripoli executive and gods contractors Russians sent by the Kremlin to support Haftar.

In this regard, Turkish President Erdogan has already got his hands on - after the Tripoli Minister of Defense declaring himself skeptical of the real effectiveness of the "demobilization" mechanisms prepared by the UN, especially as regards more structured forces such as the Syrian militias and the Russian mercenaries. In particular, doubts arise on the legal formula (and therefore on the political choice) to be adopted to bring these elements back to the homeland, with a sort of safe conduct.

In short, the Geneva truce has raised questions that cannot be answered shortly and that do not dispel the cloud of chaos on the Libyan question. To quote the United Nations representative who follows the negotiations Stephanie Williams (about the conduct of which the Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov expressed his reservations) the road ahead for peace "will be hard and difficult" and, this time to quote the Italian statesman Antonio Salandra, reasoning following the "sacred selfishness" of Rome, it will be necessary to understand what choices to make to really count again and it will be difficult considering that Italian diplomatic sources have already stressed that we will have to elbow to sit at the negotiating table.

This was when Italy until recently was the arbiter of the Libyan situation.

Photo: UNMAS