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CWA # 282, 9 May 2020

The Ceasefire in Libya
The problem is not just Haftar. It is the international hunger for the Libyan Oil

  Harini Sha P

Haftar is at a disadvantage now, without the Russian support and with Turkey supporting the GNA. 


On 29 April 29, the Libyan National Army declared a Ramadan ceasefire following international calls for a humanitarian truce in the region. Libya is facing also facing a COVID-19 crisis since April 2019. Violence escalated when the Libyan National Army intensified bombing on health centres, hospitals and civilian neighbourhoods during the lockdown. The UN, along with Europe, called for a humanitarian truce which would eventually lead to a permanent ceasefire in Libya. 

The real question is:  will the ceasefire declared by Haftar end the conflict in Libya?. The real problem in Libya is not Haftar; it is the international hunger for the Libyan Oil keeps the conflict alive.

A brief background
Post Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is under conflict between two actors - Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar. The former is recognized by the UN and backed by the US, Turkey, Qatar, and Italy. The rival is led by the warlord Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) are backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The latter launched Tripoli offence last year in the month of April to siege Tripoli. 

The strategically important Libya in the Mediterranean coast is a gateway for the European and African migrants and also has the largest oil reserve in Africa. 

The primary revenue for the Libyan economy is its petroleum sector, which represents over 95 per cent of export earnings and 60 per cent of GDP. Libya's oil reserve is the driving factor for conflicts among the internal and international actors.

Haftar is at a disadvantage now, without the Russian support and with Turkey supporting the GNA
Late in 2019, the Tripoli government signed an agreement with the Turkish government giving gas exploration rights in the Libyan waters in exchange of support during the conflict against Libyan National Army. Turkey aligned with the GNA regained a string of cities connecting Tripoli to the Tunisian border. The Turkish forces also edged the Libyan National Army inside Al-Watiya which is the headquarters of Haftar's western operation. 

Cutting the supply chains from the eastern forces in Libya and the growing dominance of Turkey in the Mediterranean are challenging Libyan National Army in their fight to consolidate power. 

The eastern forces of Libya had faced a series of setbacks in their fight against the combined forces; the former failed to progress beyond the city's outskirts. The biggest support of Libyan National Army is the Russian counterpart who is eager on the oil business in the region. Though Russia does not openly support the Haftar led militia, it aids the forces with the supply of mercenaries through Wagner group. 

The outbreak of coronavirus and the increasing focus in the internal matters might be the reason for disruption in supply by the east. Haftar's strong army is unlikely to be defeated but may get weak without the supply from Russia.    

Haftar is a hero for his supporters but a war criminal for many
The Libyan National Army controls a larger landmass of Libya. But the highly populated capital city is occupied by the Tripoli government. 2019 has been recorded with numerous public protests against the Haftar forces. He is hailed as a hero by his supporters but is criticized as a war criminal by the larger population. 

The UN has reported more than 2,000 deaths, including civilian and 150,000 people being displaced from their homes along the Tripoli frontlines. Refugees and migrants are the vulnerable groups during these conflicts, and natives are repeatedly shifted to temporary shelters. The local people are the trump cards during these conflicts and the severely affected population. 

The GNA utilize the advantage to defeat the eastern forces
The GNA rejected Haftar's unilateral Ramadan truce and continued its attack on the eastern Libyan forces. The Tripoli-based army has altered the fortunes of Haftar's militia in the eastern coast and diplomatically conducts its activities after the unilateral ceasefire by attacking the focal points of the military regime and oil tankers. Libyan news channels report on the army's continued operations against Haftar forces around Hamza military camp which is in the south of Tripoli. 

The Haftar led Libyan Nation Army is tired of losses and the multiple disadvantages faced in their progress towards the capital city. The army is in a weaker position to prolong a fight in the war-torn region. If Haftar pursues an offensive strategy, his defeat would be a certainty for the Tripoli government. The distrust among his military officials and unilateral decisions by Haftar has also impacted his war-fighting capacity. 

It is not Haftar, but the international hunger for Libyan Oil keeps the conflict alive
The outbreak of the coronavirus is reworking the world events, unlike any of the virus spread in history. The lockdown has restricted the activities of the interconnected world. The important supporters in the Libyan crisis, Russia and Italy are struggling with their internal humanitarian crisis. The world economy is going towards a recession and questions these nations, whether the Oil in Libya worth the price it has to be paid. The pandemic is likely to pull the International supporting nations back which would eventually favour the Tripoli government and paves the way for losing tracks for Haftar led Libyan National Army. Haftar's ceasefire is likely to extend as a permanent ceasefire, but the conflicts are enduring due to International hunger for Libyan-oil. 

Harini Sha P is an intern with the Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme at NIAS. She is pursuing post-graduation at the Department of International Studies at Stella Maris College, Chennai

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