Libya reopens highway linking east and west

A 300-kilometre stretch between the cities of Misrata and Sirte was cut off in 2019 as eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize Tripoli.

Libya's interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah (L C) delivers a speech at a national conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, at a conference hall in the capital Tripoli, on March 13, 2021. Picture: Mahmud Turkia / AFP.

TRIPOLI – Libya's unity government on Sunday reopened the coastal highway linking the country's east and west, closed for two years due to fighting.

Announcing the implementation of another key step in a UN-led peace process, Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah said the move would help to "turn a page" after a decade of conflict.

The highway connects the war-torn North African country's border with Tunisia to its frontier with Egypt.

A 300-kilometre stretch between the cities of Misrata and Sirte was cut off in 2019 as eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize Tripoli.

On Sunday, Dbeibah, who took office in March to lead the country to elections in December, was joined by members of his administration in the town of Buwairat al-Hassoun for a ceremony to reopen the road.

The interim premier got behind the wheel of an excavator to shift sand on the western side of the road, which is still blocked in areas controlled by Haftar's forces.

"The opening of the coastal road is significant and comes as the international community prepares to meet in Berlin," the US embassy in Tripoli tweeted.

"Libyans and foreign powers alike should focus on encouraging stability through acts like allowing this road to remain open and paving the path for Libyans to have full control over their own affairs, including elections in December," it added.

Libya was gripped by violence and political turmoil in the aftermath of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

In recent years the oil-rich North African country was split between two rival administrations backed by foreign forces and countless militias.

In October, after Haftar's forces were routed from the country's west, the two camps agreed a ceasefire in Geneva.

In February, delegates at UN-led talks also in Switzerland chose Dbeibah as interim prime minister, along with a three-member presidency council to help steer Libya towards the ballot box on 24 December.

The reopening of the highway was at the heart of talks between a committee of military figures from the rival camps.

The other key issues discussed by the so-called 5+5 committee are the reunification of Libya's armed forces and the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries.

But the presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries, estimated by the UN at 20,000, is widely perceived as a threat to the transition.

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