World powers are meeting in Berlin on Wednesday to seek lasting peace in Libya, making sure the North African country, in the midst of conflict, is firmly on the path to the December 24 general election.
Representatives of Libya’s interim government will join U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as France and Egypt’s foreign ministers in UN-sponsored talks.
Efforts to end a ten-year spiral of violence in Libya would be the second round in Berlin, following the first attendance of the presidents of Turkey, Russia and France in January 2020.
Ahead of Wednesday’s talks, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reminded participants of the promises made last year to end international interference and withdraw foreign fighters or troops.
“Those who promised to retire last time in Berlin have not kept their word,” Maas said in an interview with Die Welt daily.
“In order for the Libyans to determine the fate of their country again, foreign forces must leave. The transitional government has also made it clear, “he said.
The UN estimates that 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries are still in Libya, a presence seen as a threat to the UN-recognized transition that will lead to the elections.
Libya has been full of chaos since a NATO-backed insurgency toppled ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The country was later split between the UN-recognized National Accord Government (GNA) in the capital, Tripoli, and a rival administration based in the east of the country, with the support of armed groups and governments. foreigners.
In April 2019, renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his eastern forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli.
His 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey intensified its support for the Tripoli government with advanced military hardware, troops and thousands of mercenaries.
In October, after Turkish-backed GNA forces defeated Haftar’s, the two camps agreed to a ceasefire in Geneva.
Russian, Turkish presence
The security situation in Libya has been slowly improving since then. However, the UN recently warned that progress has stalled, especially on one of the key requirements of the polls: the withdrawal of all foreign soldiers.
Western leaders have made a repeated call for the departure of foreign fighters. But Russian mercenaries supporting Haftar’s side in the east are still in place.
Turkey has troops in Tripoli, which argues that they were sent under a bilateral agreement with the government, which means they are not affected by a request for the departure of foreign troops.
But any withdrawal is also a delicate balance, the German foreign minister said.
“Foreign forces must leave the country gradually and uniformly, so that there is no sudden military imbalance that can be used by one side for a sudden offensive,” Maas said.
Jalel Harchaoui, a senior member of the Global Initiative and an expert on Libya, also said the talks could provide tangible help in the upcoming elections.
“Someone might have a good idea to agree on a constitutional basis in July and be in the running for elections in December,” he said, referring to a key requirement for the polls. “I think there are many possibilities [for elections by year’s end] and the Berlin process could help. “
Claudia Gazzini, of the Crisis Group, warned that the road to long-term peace in Libya was still a long one, but the conference could bring new dynamism to the process.
“The Libyan parliament and executive were not able to carry out the process alone,” Gazzini said. “As a result, tensions between rival groups had risen again in recent times.”
Harchaoui also warned that the electoral process could harm the current peace.
“This single approach to really holding elections this year … looks reckless because … elections are not an end in themselves. If they happen at the wrong time, they could delve deeper into polarization, they could offer a conducive environment. for another form of war, ”he said.
“Any realist must recognize that, and this is sad to acknowledge, that this strange peace that Libya has had for the last twelve months is actually due to the presence of foreign mercenaries on both sides. That is what it is about and , of course, it is not politically correct to say so ”.