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Libya reaches cease-fire deal at Geneva talks

Libya’s two main warring sides signed a U.N.-brokered cease-fire deal that also requires military pullouts by Russia, Turkey and other regional powers.

GENEVA (AN) — Libya’s two main warring sides signed a cease-fire agreement at the United Nations' European headquarters on Friday that also requires the withdrawal of military forces sent by Russia, Turkey and other regional powers.

The breakthrough deal took "a great deal of courage" to achieve, Stephanie Williams, the U.N. acting special envoy, told a signing ceremony in the U.N.'s Palais des Nations. Next comes the arguably even more difficult challenge of enforcing the cease-fire deal amid the nation's scattered militia groups.

"The parties agreed that all military units and armed groups on the frontlines shall return to their camps. This shall be accompanied by the departure of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from all Libyan territories — land, air and sea — within a maximum period of three months from today," Williams said in a statement.

"The cease-fire does not apply to U.N.-designated terrorist groups," she said. "With immediate effect, until the new unified government assumes its functions, all military agreements on training inside Libya shall be suspended and training crews shall depart the country."

It came after days of U.N.-brokered talks to end fighting between the military coalition of renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who took control of lands in the east and south, and forces loyal to Libya’s prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and his U.N.-backed Government of National Accord, or GNA.

“God willing, it will be the key to peace and security in all Libya,” said Col. Abu Ali Abushama, head of the government's delegation, at the signing ceremony.

Libya has been split between rival governments and militias vying for power and oil since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising deposed and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

International community must 'do its part'

The United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt have been Haftar’s main supporters, supplying his forces with arms as he blockaded oil exports. But Haftar's influence has waned since June when his 14-month campaign to capture the capital, Tripoli, suffered huge losses. Turkey has been sending arms and troops to the U.N.-backed government, which has also been supported by Italy and Qatar.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan questioned the legitimacy of the cease-fire deal though he urged parties to follow it. “Time will show how long it will last,” he said.

Williams, an American diplomat who oversaw the peace talks as an acting special representative of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said the cease-fire deal “represents an important distinguishing mark for Libya and the Libyan people" that future generations may celebrate as a "decisive and courageous first step towards a comprehensive settlement of the Libyan crisis."

She also replaced Guterres' former special representative, Ghassan Salamé, as head of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL. He stepped down from the post earlier this year partly out of frustration with the international community's lack of tangible support for the peace process.

The cease-fire deal sets up talks to find a permanent political solution for bringing the North African nation back together after nearly a decade of chaotic violence. Williams emphasized the international support needed to prop up the deal, facilitated and signed by the United Nations. It will rely on a joint police operation and military commission to secure areas cleared of military units and armed groups.

"The international community must also do its part by fully respecting and supporting this Libyan-Libyan cease-fire agreement," she added, noting it bears the authority of a U.N. Security Council resolution and talks hosted by Germany this year. "This includes full respect for the principle of non-interference in Libya’s internal affairs and full implementation of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya."