TRIPOLI: Libyan men, wearing traditional costumes, ride horses during a popular equestrian festival near the capital on Friday. – AFP

TRIPOLI: Libya’s warring rival administrations announced separately on Friday that they would cease all hostilities and hold nationwide elections, drawing praise from the UN, the EU and several Arab countries. The surprise announcement followed multiple visits by top foreign diplomats to Libya in recent weeks, and came after a series of agreements and pledges that, however, have failed to be implemented.

Friday’s statements were signed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the UN-recognized unity Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the capital Tripoli, and Aguila Saleh, speaker of the eastern-based parliament backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar. The UN’s top official to Libya, Stephanie Williams, welcomed the move and called for “all parties to rise to this historic occasion and shoulder their full responsibilities before the Libyan people”.

European Union diplomatic chief Josep Borrell hailed an “important and positive” initiative, adding it was “crucial now that all parties stand by their statements”. Sarraj called for “presidential and parliamentary elections next March”, and for the “end of all combat operations”. Saleh also backed elections – though he did not specify a date – and urged “all parties” to observe “an immediate ceasefire and the cessation of all fighting”. Both leaders called for the resumption of the production and export of oil, a cornerstone of Libya’s wealth.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who backs Haftar and had threatened to deploy troops in neighboring Libya, said he supported the ceasefire declarations. “I welcome statements by Libya’s presidential council and the House of Representatives calling for a ceasefire,” Sisi said in a tweet. Libya’s former colonial power Italy also welcomed the move, as did France, Germany, the Arab League, Qatar and Jordan.

“The announcement of the ceasefire in Libya is an important step in the relaunching of a political process that will promote the stability of the country and the welfare of the people,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said. The French foreign ministry said the ceasefire announcements “must be realized on the ground” and called for an end to all foreign interference in Libya.

Sarraj said a ceasefire would allow the creation of “demilitarized zones” in Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s eastern oil fields and export terminals, and the Al-Jufra region, currently under the control of pro-Haftar forces. Saleh did not mention the demilitarization zones, but proposed the installation of a new government in Sirte. Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) also welcomed Friday’s announcement.

Libya sits atop Africa’s largest proven crude oil reserves, and earnings from its lucrative oil fields have been a source of intense disagreement between the two sides, including a months-long blockade of oil terminals. “NOC reiterates its call for all oil facilities to be freed from military occupation to ensure the security and safety of its workers,” the state oil producer said in a statement. “Once this has been done, NOC should be able to… re-commence oil export operations.”

International pressure has sought to bring Libya’s rival leaders to an agreement several times in past years, but has failed to secure a lasting peace. Analyst Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at The Hague-based Clingendael Institute, said there was a long road ahead before peace. “The question is, is this announcement fully achievable? In all likelihood, implementation will be difficult,” said Harchaoui, noting the multiple regional forces who could act as spoilers of a deal. – AFP