Libya’s warring factions accepted a ceasefire in a nine-month war that has drawn in Russia and Turkey, following a call by the presidents of both countries to halt the fighting.
Eastern military commander Khalifa Hifter’s forces, who launched the war in April against the internationally recognised government, said they would abide by the ceasefire starting midnight Saturday. The Tripoli-based government said earlier it would comply.
The dramatic announcement by Hifter’s Libyan National Army after a series of gains in recent weeks followed a call for a ceasefire by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Looming over the conflict was a possible Turkish military intervention to defend Tripoli against Hifter’s forces, who are backed by Russian mercenaries, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
The war, which has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced tens of thousands, threatens to further divide an oil-producing country wracked by violence since a Nato-backed revolt in 2011 toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Hifter has resisted ending his offensive, arguing that he could take the capital and unseat the government. International pressure had mounted for months as the war drew in outside powers, including Turkish-backed Syrian rebels deployed to defend Tripoli. The United Nations mission welcomed the truce and called on both sides to adhere to it.
Hours earlier, Putin held talks with the leaders of Egypt and the U.A.E. He also reached out to Qatar, which backs the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
The US, which had held Libya at arm’s length until Russian mercenaries were deployed in September, increased pressure on both sides to end the fighting in meetings with Hifter and a GNA leader in Rome earlier.
Next, Germany plans to host a Libyan summit this month to enforce a UN arms embargo flouted by the backers of the rival factions. Turkey and the U.A.E. have deployed armed drones to Libya and supplied local allies with armoured vehicles and weapons.
“We have agreed that we will soon be able to issue invitations to a conference in Berlin,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Saturday after meeting Putin, who reiterated his call for a ceasefire.
It isn’t clear how the truce will be implemented or monitored. Hifter’s forces control eastern Libya and the south, where most of the oilfields are. The front lines in Tripoli’s suburbs are a patchwork of rival forces, some of them nominally under a central command.
The grievances that led to the war also remain. Hifter launched the offensive claiming Tripoli was in the grip of terrorists, although the government there is a Western ally in fighting Islamic State and other jihadists. But the war has more to do with control over the country’s financial institutions in the capital, including the central bank, which Hifter says hasn’t distributed oil revenues fairly.