Putschist general Haftar agrees to Libya cease-fire talks, UN says

Putschist General Khalifa Haftar speaks during a news conference at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi. May 17, 2014. (Reuters File Photo)

Libyan warlord Khalifa has agreed to the resumption of cease-fire talks, the United Nations Support Mission in () said early Tuesday.

"The United Nations Mission welcomes the parties in Libya accepting the resumption of the Joint Military Commission 5+5 talks," UNSMIL said on Twitter.

The statement went on to say that the parties agreed to talk amid "calls by Libyans who want to have a dignified and safe life as soon as possible."

"It is hoped that all national and international parties involved in the Libyan issue will respond to the calls of the Libyan people to end the war and that the 5+5 negotiations will lay the groundwork for the final ceasefire," the statement added.

Delegates from the internationally-recognized government and Haftar's east-based militias will conduct the talks through video calls because of the pandemic, the U.N. Mission said in the announcement late Monday. It didn't say when the talks would resume or give further details.

The statement signaled that both sides, and their foreign backers, may prefer to pull back from the brink.

Spokespeople for the military factions did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and the fate of the political process remains unclear after previous agreements collapsed.

On Sunday, warlord Haftar's militias recaptured the strategic town of al-Asabaa, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, after launching airstrikes on militias in the area, according to Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for the militia. Their troops were chasing government-allied forces to their stronghold in the nearby town of Gharyan, he added.

A statement from the Tripoli-allied forces did not acknowledge the defeat, with spokesman Mohamed Gununu saying only that they were targeting LAAF forces on the town's borders. But two Tripoli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, admitted they lost the town after heavy shelling and airstrikes by the warlord's forces.

Control of the town gives the Haftar better access to Tarhuna, their main western stronghold and supply line southeast of the capital.

Haftar's gain more broadly reflects the seesawing nature of the war, which in recent weeks had turned dramatically in favor of the Libyan army that ousted Haftar's forces from a key western airbase and several towns. The Tripoli government had been struggling to fend off a yearlong siege of the capital by the putschist general Haftar's forces when Turkey escalated its air support.

The battle for Tripoli has threatened to plunge Libya into chaos on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, as foreign backers increasingly intervene.

Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the internationally-recognized government forces are supported by Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed the situation in Syria and Libya in a phone talk on Monday.

Lavrov asked Guterres to appoint a new envoy for Libya as soon as possible, taking into account the worsening situation in the conflict-hit country.

Most recently, the U.S. has accused Russia openly of supporting Haftar with aircraft against the official government and worsening the situation in the war-ravaged country.

The military fighter aircraft left Russia and first stopped in Syria where they "were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin" before arriving in Libya, said U.S. military command for Africa, Africom.

Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group, a private military company that is supporting Haftar forces against the GNA, the command stated, indicating the presence of Russian mercenaries on the ground in Libya.

The coronavirus has infected at least 168 people in Libya, but testing is extremely limited. The impact of a large outbreak would likely be severe given the continued fighting and the state of the country's health system.

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