Berlin conference reaches tentative consensus on Libya but scepticism prevails

Berlin conference reaches tentative consensus on Libya but scepticism prevails.
Monday 20/01/2020
Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, Libya's internationally recognised Prime Minister, is pictured during an interview, in Berlin, Germany January 20, 2020. (Reuters)
Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, Libya's internationally recognised Prime Minister, is pictured during an interview, in Berlin, Germany January 20, 2020. (Reuters)

World leaders attending the Berlin Conference aimed at bringing an end to the conflict in Libya have agreed to a package of moves aimed at transforming a fragile truce into a permanent ceasefire and paving the way for a return to dialogue.

The summit's final statement said the participants “call on all actors to refrain from any activities exacerbating the conflict or inconsistent with the (UN) arms embargo or the ceasefire, including the financing of military capabilities or the recruitment of mercenaries.”

It is not clear, though, if this will make any difference on the ground. 

Before the conference started, oil terminals in the east of the country had been closed by the Libyan National Army (LNA) headed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and production at the Sharara and El-Fil oilfields in the south-west was stopped. There were also heavy clashes in part of the Tripoli suburb of Hadaba.

As part of the agreement, there is to be a military committee representing both sides in the conflict which will try to work out terms for a lasting ceasefire. Five members will be from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez Sarraj and five from the LNA.  The committee will meet in Geneva, possibly as soon as next weekend.

The international leaders, including Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also agreed that no more weapons or other military support would, in the meantime, go to Libya. However, there was no discussion as to what would happen if the embargo was violated.

Turkey has sent arms as well as several hundred mercenaries and militants from Syria as well as Turkish military experts to help the GNA and had said that it would send troops. French President Emmanuel Macron was quoted as saying he was "extremely concerned by the arrival of Syrian and foreign fighters in Tripoli" and this "must end immediately."

Russian mercenaries, employed by Moscow-based Wagner Group, have been fighting with the LNA in the battle for Tripoli and have been credited with helping the latter achieve gradual advances in the past three months.

Also attending the conference were the Egyptian, Algerian, French and Congolese presidents, the British and Italian prime ministers, the US secretary of state, the UAE foreign minister, the UN Secretary-General, the heads of the Arab League, the African Union, a top official from China’s communist party and leading EU officials.

The meeting was chaired by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Both Haftar and Sarraj were also in Berlin and had separate talks with some of the international leaders attending the conference but neither took part in the official discussions. They were informed of the talks and reportedly agreed to continue the truce for the moment.

A number of Libyan officials were also in Berlin for meetings on the sidelines of the conference. Sarraj was accompanied by his interior and foreign ministers. They met with Erdogan before the conference started.  Erdogan also met with the new Algerian president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune to discuss Libya.

The conference was presented by Merkel and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as the start of a peace process, that will be overseen by the UN, not as sealing a peace deal.

Merkel said she felt that, as a result of the meeting, the situation was better than a fortnight ago. Guterres said that the risk of the crisis escalating into a regional conflict had been averted. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that progress had been made towards reaching a lasting ceasefire. Referring to one of Washington’s main interests in Libya, he also said that he hoped that the oil facilities would now reopen as a result.

However, despite the upbeat spin, it is not clear if the conference will lead anywhere.

One Libyan official in Berlin said after the meeting that he was "depressed" by the outcome and that it had achieved little more than previous meetings in Paris, Abdu Dhabi and Palermo.

Libya analysts in Berlin attending the conference were also sceptical that it would bring an end to Libya’s divisions.

Former Swedish prime minister and international mediator Carl Bildt tweeted that any ceasefire would require “robust monitoring” and that if the EU were not willing to do it, then probably Russia and Turkey would do so “in order to cement their new positions in the country."

Meanwhile, it has been announced that Russia, in its new authoritative position in Libya, is to deliver major supplies of wheat to Tobruk Benghazi and Tripoli next month.