Authorities in western Libya released 120 fighters from a rival eastern force on Wednesday, the latest move towards reconciliation in a United Nations-backed peace process aimed at ending years of violence.
The men were fighting for the 107th Brigade under the command of eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who in April 2019 launched an offensive to seize Tripoli from a unity government. The fighters had been captured near the western city of Zawiya that same month.
On Wednesday, dressed in loose white outfits and matching skullcaps, they were released following a ceremony in Zawiya, 45 kilometres east of Tripoli. The ceremony took place at a sports ground in Zawiya under heavy security.
In a speech, Abdallah al-Lafi, vice-president of the country’s new presidential council, welcomed the move and called for further reconciliation and rebuilding.
“We must not pass on hatred and bitterness to our children,” he said.
After a recitation from the Koran and the singing of the national anthem, the prisoners were released and reunited with their families amid loud ululations.
Libya has been ravaged by bloodshed since the assassination of revolutionary leader Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi in a NATO-backed 2011 revolt.
An array of armed groups arose to fill the vacuum, and many coalesced around the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) or around Haftar, who backed an eastern administration. The two camps, each supported by foreign powers, fought for more than a year before Haftar was forced to retreat.
In October they signed a truce, setting in motion a UN-led process that saw a new transitional government installed in February.
The deal had also led to the release of several dozen prisoners by January. The new executive is charged with organising national elections set for December 2021.