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Berlin Conference on Libya Sparks Expectations of an End to Protracted Conflict

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By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN (IDN) – A tiny glimmer of hope has emerged for Libya which has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Participants in a high-level ‘Berlin Conference on Libya’, hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 19, gave the go-ahead for the comprehensive ‘Berlin Process’ to put an end to the conflict and bring lasting peace to the oil-rich North African country trapped in clashing interests of Russia and Turkey – and other countries.

Participants agreed to respect the UN arms embargo and truce in the war-ravaged country. They pledged to establish an oversight mechanism to ensure long-term peace and put an end to the “disastrous humanitarian situation faced by thousands of civilians,” as UN Secretary-General António Guterres put it, in the face of conflict growing “deeper and more destructive”.

A statement comprising the 55-point Conference Conclusions agreed to by the leaders of 12 countries, as well as the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League, calls on “all actors to refrain from any activities exacerbating the conflict or inconsistent with the UNSC (UN Security Council) arms embargo or the ceasefire, including the financing of military capabilities or the recruitment of mercenaries”. This applies in particular to Russia and Turkey.

All participants agreed to “commit to unequivocally and fully respect and implement the arms embargo established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011) and the Council’s subsequent Resolutions, including the proliferation of arms from Libya, and called on all international actors to do the same.”

“We had very serious negotiations here,” German Chancellor Merkel said after the conference. The conference made “an important contribution to driving peace efforts forward” by agreeing that “a political solution” is required and that military intervention is “by no means a solution”. Besides, all participants had worked “very constructively together,” Ms. Merkel added.

According to the Conference Conclusions, the Berlin Process, which seeks to support the three-point-plan presented by Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Ghassan Salamé, to the Security Council, has “the sole objective” of assisting the United Nations in unifying the International Community in their support for a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis. “There can be no military solution in Libya.”

Participants also agreed “to commit to efforts strengthening current monitoring mechanisms by the UN and competent national and international authorities, within our capabilities, including maritime, aerial and terrestrial monitoring, and through the provision of additional resources, in particular satellite imagery”.

An International Follow-Up Committee (IFC) consisting of all countries and international organizations that participated in the Berlin Conference on Libya will be established in order to maintain coordination in the aftermath of the conference, under the aegis of the UN. The German chancellor said, the Berlin Conference on Libya will be followed by the first steps to implementing the results. There should soon be a meeting that should lay the foundation for a solid ceasefire.

The UN chief told journalists after the conference that a meeting to discuss the economic reform necessary for the normal governance of Libya will take place in the next two to three weeks.

Conference participants included high-level representatives of Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, the Republic of the Congo, United Arab Emirates, Britain, and the United States, together with representatives of the UN, the African Union, the European Union, and the League of Arab States.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were among the participants.

Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, attended the conference as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special representative.

Though Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the UN-recognized Libya’s government backed by the Parliament and General Khalifa Haftar leading the Libyan National Army were both in Berlin they refused to meet with each other in the same room. underlining grave tensions and huge differences between the two sides.

While Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are backing General Haftar, Turkey is defending the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. Within the European Union, different member countries have tacitly backed different sides, with varying intensity. France has been on General Haftar’s side, while Italy has traditionally been closer to the official government in Tripoli.

Ms. Merkel said the international participants spoke only individually to the two Libyan leaders, who were not at the conference table but were kept informed of developments throughout the day.

The New York Times quoted officials saying that General Haftar “abruptly left the chancellery in Berlin and could not be coaxed back from his hotel. He is traveling to Moscow again on Monday January 20), officials said, where he will hold further talks with Mr. Putin”.

Troops of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Al-Sarraj have been under attack since April from the troops of General Haftar who controls eastern Libya. Clashes have killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands.

“I hope the commitments made today will contribute to a lasting solution to the Libya crisis. We need to have a ceasefire. We cannot monitor something that doesn’t exist,” UN chief Guterres told journalists after the conference.

“It is a strong signal that we are fully committed to supporting a peaceful resolution of Libya crisis….We have a truce,” said Mr. Guterres, who urged all participants not to do anything that could interfere with this path to a peaceful solution and refrain from interference in the conflict in Libya.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that signature on the conference conclusions alone is not enough, “we must now succeed in bringing the Libyan conflicting parties together and creating the conditions for the civil war to be brought to a political solution”.

The Berlin Conference on Libya was preceded by inter-Libyan talks held in Moscow on January 13 under the mediation of Russia and Turkey. The parties involved in the Libyan conflict gathered to discuss a ceasefire meant to end the hostilities in Libya and start a political dialogue.

After more than eight hours of talks, the head of Libya’s Government of National Accord Al-Sarraj signed the deal, but General Haftar left for Libya early January 14 without signing the agreement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “We never pretended that the talks in Moscow should be a final meeting that would resolve all issues (of the Libyan conflict) without exception. We promoted this meeting as a step and a contribution to the preparation for the upcoming international conference on Libya in Berlin.”

Mr. Lavrov said: “This has happened before when the meetings on the settlement in Libya were held in Paris, Palermo, and Abu Dhabi. When such a meeting was held in France, even the date of the elections was named, but it took place two years ago. It is a pity that the agreements in Abu Dhabi were not implemented, because they dealt with key political issues – the separation of powers and a territorial arrangement that would suit everyone,” Lavrov added speaking at a Forum in New Delhi.

“This is a process, and it is ongoing, and we will continue to make efforts to ensure its success,” he said.

He stressed that both sides adhere to the cease-fire announced following the call of the Turkish and Russian presidents on January 12. On that day, the warring sides of the Libyan conflict announced a ceasefire in response to the call of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 January 2020]

Photo: The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, addresses the Berlin Conference on Libya alongside the UN Secretary-General António Guterres (r). Credit: Federal Government/Guido Bergmann.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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