Forces of Libyan strongman General Khalifa Haftar announce ceasefire, Moscow says peace talks to hold in Berlin

 Russians in Libya, not representing the Russian state - Putin

General Khalifa Haftar
Benghazi, Jan 12 ; The forces of Libyan strongman General Khalifa Haftar on Saturday announced a ceasefire from midnight on Sunday following calls from Moscow and Ankara for a truce. AFP reported.

They warned, however, in a short statement that the "response will be severe in the event of any violation of the truce by the opposing camp", a reference to the UN-recognised government in Libya, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

Haftar''s forces have been battling to take the capital from the GNA since April. Influence of military commanders rising in Libya

However, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was time to hold Libya peace talks in Berlin, as it was important to end the conflict in the country. Merkel said at the same press conference that Germany plans to start sending out invitations for the peace talks soon.

Merkel was in Russia on a working visit based on the invitation by President Putin.

Putin asked on Saturday whether mercenaries known as the Wagner Group were fighting in Libya, said that if there are Russians in Libya, they are not representing the Russian state, nor are they paid by the state.

Russian private military contractors have clandestinely fought in support of Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine, Reuters and other media have previously reported. The contractors are recruited by a private military group known as Wagner Group whose members are mostly ex-service personnel.

The Russian state denies it uses mercenaries abroad.

Ankara has asked Russian to convince eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar to respect a ceasefire initiative by Ankara and Moscow that he has rejected.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire on Wednesday in Istanbul.

"We are waiting for our Russian friends to succeed in convincing Haftar," Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference on Saturday.

In a statement read by his spokesman Ahmad al-Mesmari, renegade military commander Haftar claimed that a revival of the political process and the country's stability could only be assured by the "eradication of terrorist groups" and the dissolution of the militia controlling Tripoli.

An adviser to Haftar later told AFP news agency that Haftar's position did not amount to a rejection of the ceasefire initiative, but rather "conditions that must be fulfilled" ahead of any truce.

Turkish Erdogan backs Fayez al-Sarraj's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognised by the United Nations.

Turkey's Cavusoglu accused "regional nations" - a reference to Arab countries backing Haftar and also to France - of opposing a ceasefire. "France is looking for any means to sabotage any initiative which it is not party to," he said.

Last week, Turkey started deploying troops in Libya to back the GNA.

Cavusoglu also said on Saturday that a new ceasefire brokered by Ankara and Moscow was due to come into force at 00:01 GMT on Sunday in Idlib, the last rebel bastion in Syria's northwest.

"We hope that it will be lasting this time and that Russia will be able to control the regime forces," he said.

(With AFP and Moscow Times)

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