CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s rivals kicked off a UN-brokered prisoner exchange, which was part of a cease-fire agreement they inked over two months ago in Geneva, the United Nations and Libyan officials said.
The exchange of a first batch of prisoners, supervised by a joint military committee, took place Friday in the southwestern village of al-Shwayrif, according to the UN Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL.
Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, to the west of the North African country, and rival authorities based in the east. The two sides are backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers.
The oil-rich country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
In April 2019, east-based commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli, a campaign that stalled after months of fighting and eventually collapsed in June. Hifter’s forces have since withdrawn to the coastal city of Sirte.
The two sides signed a nationwide, UN-brokered cease-fire deal in October that included an exchange of all war prisoners.
UNSMIL announced the prisoner exchange without giving details on how many prisoners were freed for each side. It called for both sides to speed up the implementation of the cease-fire deal, including the exchange of all prisoners.
Fathi Bashaga, the powerful interior minister of the UN-supported government, hailed the exchange in a tweet, attaching photos of released prisoners.
The Tripoli Protection Unit, a militia allied with the capital-based government, also posted a 31-second video apparently showing the prisoner exchange, with an official reading the names of those released.
The cease-fire deal also included the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya within three months.
However, no progress was announced on the issue of foreign forces and mercenaries two months after they inked the deal.
Thousands of foreign fighters, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese and Chadians, have been brought to Libya by both sides, according to UN experts.