Despite LNA and GNA ‘accepting’ international calls for ceasefire amid pandemic, fighting continues on frontlines
On 17 March, the embassies of Algeria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Netherland, Turkey, the UK, the US and the EU delegation to Libya called on the Libyan parties to sustain a humanitarian ceasefire and spare the country more suffering in the light of the COVID-19 outbreak. On 21 March, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomed the “positive responses” by the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libyan National Army (LNA) to the ceasefire calls on 18 March and 21 March respectively and expressed the hope that that the parties “stop the fighting immediately on all fronts to allow national health authorities and health partners to respond to the potential threat of COVID-19 in the country”. This came after LNA spokesperson Brigadier Ahmed al-Mismari announced that the LNA General Command “welcomed” the calls for a truce and is committed to stopping fighting so long as the other parties abide by it.” However, fighting does not appear to have ceased on Tripoli’s southern frontlines. On 24 March, forces aligned to the LNA in Tarhouna reported grad rockets striking the town while anti-LNA forces near Tripoli claimed shells struck Mitiga airport, killing two and wounding one.
Both parties to the Libyan conflict remain keen to burnish their international reputations and be seen to be the “good guys” when the opportunity arises. Given that a humanitarian pause in fighting is nominally an apolitical move, and given the coordinated call from key international players, it is not surprising that both the GNA and LNA moved to “welcome” a truce and continue to pay lip service to a ceasefire. However, the continued fighting on the ground, the reiteration of the need for the other side to abide by the ceasefire (meaning each side has a ‘get out’ clause), and the lack of any tangible mechanisms or parameters for a humanitarian pause mean that a meaningful truce is unlikely to take effect in the immediate term. There may be a lull in the fighting in the coming days in recognition of the humanitarian situation, while it is possible that terms for a temporary truce may be agreed in the short term if COVID-19 cases are confirmed and escalate in the country. The ongoing military standoff in southern Tripoli is likely weaken the efforts of health workers to contain the disease and further undermine efforts to detect and quarantine the cases of COVID-19.