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Libya’s PM says main coastal road reopens ahead of peace talks | Middle East News




Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh declares the east-west highway open, but eastern forces are blocking it on their side.

The head of the Libyan unity government said he has reopened the main coastal road beyond the frozen front line, a gesture of progress in the fragile peace process, but eastern forces said the road remains closed.

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibehs moves Sunday to reopen the road is in line with a ceasefire agreement agreed last year as part of efforts to resolve the decade-long chaos and violence in Libya.

Dbeibeh said on Sunday that the reopening of the coastal road connecting Misrata in western Libya and the Mediterranean city of Sirte marks a new step towards restoring stability and unity in the North African country.

“I am very pleased to be part of the opening of this essential lifeline that connects our country east to west,” Dbeibeh told a crowd that gathered as bulldozers pulled rocks and sand dunes blocking the road.

The move comes days before international powers meet in Berlin to discuss the crisis in Libya and progress towards unifying the country’s fragmented institutions and holding elections scheduled for December.

Dbeibeh removed a pile of sand blocking the road at the last checkpoint on the west side of the front line, before heading east with his convoy towards Sirte, held by eastern forces.

However, a media unit of rebel commander Khalifa Haftars based in the east-based Libyan National Army (LNA) said the road was still closed and there was no truth to what was being said about its reopening.

Al Jazeera Malik Traina, reporting from the coastal road near Sirte, said eastern forces say full opening of the road would require approval by the joint military commission representing both western and eastern forces.

It simply shows that Libya is still deeply divided. “I think a lot of people were hoping that this interim government would unify the country, but we will have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

Libya, a major oil producer in North Africa, has had little peace or stability since the NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and a split in 2014 between eastern and western warring factions.

Haftar forces

Although reopening the road would mark an important step for the internationally supported peace process, major challenges remain with the armed force still held by countless groups, including the forces of Eastern Commander Haftar.

Earlier Sunday, in a move underscoring its continued military influence, Haftars forces announced they had closed the border with Algeria after settling too far south.

The reopening of the coastal highway and other ceasefire conditions, agreed in September following the collapse of Haftars’ 14-month offensive in Tripoli, were supposed to be implemented months ago.

Haftar, right, meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron [File: Etienne Laurent/Pool/Reuters]

However, as flights resumed between Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi and some prisoners were released, the road remained blocked at the front line.

Western Libyan forces had refused to open it until another ceasefire condition was met removing powerful foreign mercenaries entrenched around the front lines.

The ceasefire and the formation of the Dbeibehs National Union Government (GNU) were both agreed through a negotiated process facilitated by the United Nations and supported by the international community.

The process is intended to result in elections, but neither participants in the UN talks nor the divided eastern-based parliament have agreed on a constitutional basis for the vote to move forward, opening up potential challenges to its legitimacy.

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