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Turkey-US talks to establish demilitarized zone in central Libya

LNA fighters on their way to reportedly back up fellow LNA troops in Sirte [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 13 August, 2020

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The demilitarised zone would include the oil-rich city of Sirte where Russian mercenaries are believed to hold growing influence.
The United States and Turkey have discussed the establishment of a demilitarized zone in central Libya, the US embassy in Libya announced Wednesday.

The US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland also discussed the withdrawal of foreign forces and the resumption of National Oil Corporation's activity with Turkish officials on his visit to Ankara, the embassy statement on Facebook read.

The statement emphasised the "urgent need to support Libyan voices genuinely seeking an end to the conflict and return to UN-facilitated political dialogue, with full respect for Libya's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

The demilitarized zone would include the oil-rich city of Sirte, Arabi21 reported, which has been the battleground between the internationally-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and Haftar's self-described Libyan National Army militias.

Sirte - which lies some 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of the capital - is under the control of Haftar's forces and is seen as a major prize for the GNA.

GNA forces have made major gains against Haftar's militias in recent months, thanks in part to increased support from backer Turkey.

Analysts believe the growing influence of Russian mercenaries in Sirte has prompted the US-Turkey discussions.

The Pentagon released satellite photographs in July that it said shows military equipment supplied by the Russian state-backed mercenary Wagner Group "on the front lines" of the Libyan conflict in Sirte.

Political analyst Faisal al-Sharif told Arabi21 that he believes US concern over the growing Russian force in Libya, as well as energy sources, has triggered its diplomatic efforts.

Al-Sharif said Ambassador Norland began to deal "pragmatically" with the crisis "in a desire to push Russia into a corner".

Turkey backs the UN-recognised GNA in Libya's west, while the forces of eastern-based rogue general Khalifa Haftar are supported by the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia.

Ambassador Norland held discussions with Egyptian officials on the matter earlier this week in Cairo, Al Jazeera reported. 

On his visit, Norland also met with the Tobruk-based Speaker of the House of Representatives Aqila Saleh. 

Read more: Russia and Turkey on collision course in Libya's conflict

Libya has been in chaos since a Western-backed uprising toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Eastern-based military commander Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to seize Tripoli, headquarters of the GNA. 

After more than a year of clashes, forces loyal to the UN-recognised government have expelled Haftar's troops from much of western Libya.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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