Libya force frees prisoners in reconciliation gesture

·2-min read
Freed prisoners loyal to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, are seen after they have been released, during an official ceremony at the Olympic Club Stadium in Zawia

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Forces in Zawiya in western Libya on Wednesday released more than 100 captives taken from Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) to solidify a months-long ceasefire and moves towards national unity.

The men had been held since April 2019 when Haftar launched an assault to seize control of the capital, Tripoli, and other areas in the northwest, ending with his retreat last summer.

Libya's warring sides agreed a ceasefire in October in Geneva, and political talks led this month to agreement on a new unity government to replace the two rival administrations that had ruled in east and west.

The process, seen as Libya's best chance in years to end the decade of chaos and violence since the 2011 NATO-backed rising against Muammar Gaddafi, remains fragile with myriad armed groups still wielding control on the ground.

"Such joy has no price," said Khalif al-Kilan, 92, the father of one of the captives who attended a ceremony in Zawiya, 45 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, to release them.

"This is the real project for national reconciliation," said Ramadan Ahmed Abujanah, deputy prime minister in the new unity government, addressing the ceremony.

The released men wore traditional white tunics and skullcaps to cover their prison-shaven heads at the ceremony in Zawiya stadium. Their families cheered and waved their hands before being reunited.

Haftar's LNA, though based in eastern Libya, is drawn from a coalition of different factions and includes fighters from across the country. Most of those released on Wednesday were from western cities.

Musa al-Koni, a member of the three-man Presidency Council representing southern Libya, called for the release of prisoners held in eastern and southern areas.

(Reporting by Reuters Libya newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)