BENGHAZI, Libya: Libya’s army announced a ceasefire Sunday, joining an Islamist-backed militia alliance in declaring a truce that the United Nations hailed as a “significant” step towards ending months of violence.
“We declare a ceasefire from midnight [10:00 p.m. Manila time] Sunday,” the army said, stressing however that it would continue to pursue “terrorists”, as UN-brokered peace talks resume in Geneva next week.
The army also said it would monitor the situation on the ground “to prevent any change in front lines or transportation of weapons and ammunition,” which it would consider a violation of the truce.
Soldiers “have been given the right to defend themselves if they come under fire,” the statement added.
The UN’s Libya mission welcomed the ceasefire as a “significant contribution” to the country’s peace process and called on all parties to work with UNSMIL to “ensure compliance” with the truce.
“UNSMIL urges the parties to ensure that the ceasefire applies to ground, sea and air operations as well as movement of armed personnel and vehicles,” it said.
The UN Support Mission in Libya or UNSMIL said it would coordinate with both sides “regarding tackling any breaches” and that the truce would allow the flow of humanitarian aid to people displaced by fighting.
Armed forces spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mesmari said the decision was taken “in support of the Geneva talks” and stressed that the army keeps its distance from politics.
“The army is engaged in pursuing its duty to protect the Libyan people, ensure security and stability in the country and fight terrorism and anarchy whatever the outcome of the negotiations,” Mesmari said.
On Friday, the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) militia alliance said it had agreed to a ceasefire in the North African country on the condition rival factions respected the truce.
It also pledged to open up “safe passages to channel humanitarian aid,” especially in Libya’s battleground second city of Benghazi.
Late Saturday, the commander of a militia from third city Misrata allied with Fajr Libya, Ahmed Hadiya, said his fighters would respect the ceasefire.
Fajr Libya did not take part in the first round of peace talks in Geneva last week, during which Libya’s opposing factions agreed on a roadmap to form a unity government and to further discussions.
Libya has been sliding deeper into conflict since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, with rival governments and powerful militias battling for control of its main cities and oil wealth.
The internationally-recognized government and elected parliament decamped last summer to the country’s far east after Fajr Libya seized Tripoli and set up its own administration.
The militia alliance also holds Misrata and launched a bloody offensive in December to seize key oil terminals but was repelled by the army.
Libya’s rival government, the General National Congress (GNC), which also did not attend the Geneva talks, said on Sunday that it will not send delegates to next week’s discussions.
“The talks must take place on Libyan soil,” a statement said.
The GNC had served as Libya’s highest political authority after gaining power in the country’s first free election. It was replaced in June polls but has refused to disband.
On Saturday, the UN Security Council welcomed the Fajr Libya ceasefire, but threatened sanctions against anyone obstructing peace efforts.
“There can be no military solution to the crisis in Libya,” the 15-member council said in a unanimous statement.
UNSMIL envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, warned as the Geneva talks opened last week that they were a last-ditch effort to prevent all-out chaos.
Leon also underscored the threat of Libya becoming a hotbed of Islamist insurgency, echoing concerns made by Libyan officials and world leaders.