UN chief urges pullout of foreign forces from Libya

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A file photo of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (photo by AFP)

The United Nations (UN)'s chief has demanded the pullout of all foreign soldiers and mercenaries from Libya, also hailing "tangible progress" made in recent months in resolving the conflict in the North African country.

"Tangible progress was achieved in advancing the UNSMIL-facilitated political, security and economic intra-Libyan dialogues over the last few months," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report submitted to the Security Council on Monday, referring to the UN mission in Libya.

"Sustained international engagement" in UN-facilitated talks "has generated considerable impetus, demonstrated by tangible progress on the political, security, economic and international humanitarian law and human rights tracks, moving Libya forward on the road to peace, stability and development," Guterres further said.

The UN chief also called on all "regional and international actors to respect the provisions of the ceasefire agreement" reached on October 23 last year on the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries from the war-ravaged country within three months.

That deadline for the pullout falls on Saturday, though the UN estimates that nearly 20,000 foreign forces and mercenaries still remain in Libya backing the warring factions in the country, namely the UN-backed government in the capital, Tripoli, and the rebels led by military strongman Khalifa Haftar in the east of the country.

Recognizing that the "Libyan economy is at a precipice," Guterres further invited rival Libyan parties "to maintain their resolve in reaching a lasting political solution to the conflict, resolving economic issues and alleviating the humanitarian situation for the benefit of all Libyan people."

Guterres further urged all parties to implement the terms of the ceasefire "without delay," something he reiterated "includes ensuring the departure of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, and the full and unconditional respect of the Security Council arms embargo," which has been in place since conflict broke out in the country nearly 10 years ago.

The next meeting of the Security Council on Libya has been set for January 28. Britain — which participated in a Western military intervention in the country to topple Libyan dictator and former ally Muammar Qaddafi — is preparing a resolution for the UN mission to assume a supervisory role and monitor the departure of foreign forces from Libya and ensure that the terms of the October agreement are satisfied.

The development came a day after the world body announced that the political talks it mediated between Libya's warring parties had led to an agreement on a new transitional government to oversee the run-up to elections set for next December.

Acting UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams said Sunday that the agreement represented the "best possible compromise" on the issue and could lead to the selection of a transitional government "in several weeks."

Libya has been in chaos since 2014.

The internationally-recognized government in the country is backed by Turkey, while the rebels receive support from the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Egypt.

The latest push toward peace began after the government repelled a 14-month rebel assault on Tripoli in June last year. A ceasefire was agreed in Geneva in October.

In November, the UN invited 75 Libyans to join a political dialog in Tunis, which set a date of December 24 this year for presidential and parliamentary elections and agreed on the need for a new, unified transitional government.

The transitional government will be responsible for preparing the elections, combating corruption, and restoring public services across Libya, Williams said.

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