UN’s Libya welcomes prisoner release as start of ‘nationwide reconciliation’

The UN mission in Libya hailed the release of more than 100 prisoners loyal to renegade commander Khalifa Hifter, calling the initiative the start of a “nationwide reconciliation.”

In a ceremony attended by members of Libya’s transitional government, 107 detainees were released from prison in the western city of Zawiya on Wednesday. The prisoners had fought with Hifter’s eastern-based Libyan National Army, which has been embroiled in a civil war against the UN-backed Government of National Accord since 2014.

The rival factions agreed to a cease-fire in October that ended the fighting and opened the door for UN-led peace talks, which led to the appointment of an interim government in February. Led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the Government of National Unity is tasked with organizing general elections in December 2021.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) tweeted that it “welcomes the efforts undertaken by the Government of National Unity” to release the prisoners.

“UNSMIL hopes that this initiative constitutes the beginning of a nationwide reconciliation and of restoring Libya’s social fabric, and calls for the release of all detainees before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan,” the mission tweeted.

The men released this week were captured near Zawiya in April 2019, when Hifter’s LNA fought to take Tripoli from the internationally recognized government. After more than a year of fighting, forces loyal to the GNA recaptured the capital city in June 2020.

The prisoners, all dressed in matching white uniforms, were released in a ceremony Wednesday that took place at a heavily guarded soccer stadium. Abdallah al-Lafi, vice president of the interim three-member presidential council, called for continuing unity.

“We must not pass on hatred and bitterness to our children,” he said during the ceremony.

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