Representatives of Libya’s neighbors meeting in Cairo on Saturday warned the North African nation’s main rival factions against seeking to settle their differences through military force, as Egypt announced that efforts were underway to bring their leaders together to chart a “joint vision” for the country.
The representatives came from Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Chad, Niger and Tunisia. Also attending was U.N. envoy to Libya Martin Kobler.
“A comprehensive political dialogue between all Libya parties is the only way out of this crisis,” said a final communique after the meeting, saying the delegates “decisively reject” a military solution to the Libyan crisis, a thinly veiled reference to past clashes between forces backing the factions.
Libya has plunged into chaos and lawlessness since the ouster and later killing of Muammar Gadhafi in a 2011 uprising and subsequent civil war, with two rival administrations operating in the east and west of the vast, oil-rich nation. Also operating in Libya is an array of militant Islamic groups, including a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State.
The communique said participants in the Cairo meeting commended recent defeats of the militants in the coastal cities of Sirte and Benghazi, but that they remained concerned over their continuing presence elsewhere in the vast country.
Saturday’s meeting followed airstrikes earlier this week by U.S. Air Force B-2 bombers that targeted a pair of IS military camps southwest of Sirte, killing more than 80 fighters in an unusual mission that may have marked the final demonstration of military force of now-former President Barack Obama’s global counterterrorism campaign.
The airstrikes were coordinated with the U.N-backed government headquartered in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
Addressing a news conference after the meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said work was underway to bring the leaders of Libya’s main factions — The Tripoli government, parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk and the leader of the “national army” — to meet.
He, however, gave no specifics, only saying that the proposed gathering would aim to “bolster trust, understanding and search for a joint vision.”
Shukri also repeated calls on the international community to lift a ban on arms sales to Libya, saying the “national army” was a legitimate entity. “It’s inappropriate for this ban to stand and we continue to demand that it be rescinded.”
The Libyan army is led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, who is strongly backed by Egypt and is seen by some in Libya’s eastern region as the country’s best hope for defeating Islamic extremists.
The Cairo meeting also called on the international community to meet Libya’s humanitarian needs in 2017, citing shortages of medical supplies. It urged the international community to release frozen Libyan assets abroad as a way to ease the country’s financial crisis.
Shortages of basic goods and a cash crunch have brought daily hardships for Libyans, who now stand in line for hours for fuel, cash, bread and cooking gas. Banks are open to the public once a week, with a ceiling of less than $200 on withdrawals.