German conference could remove Libya from deadlock of French-Italian rivalry

Germany is preparing to hold an international conference on Libyan crisis after similar gatherings on the North African country held in France and Italy failed.
Thursday 12/09/2019
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears on the screen of a video camera as she delivers a speech at the lower house of Parliament, Berlin, September 11. (AFP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears on the screen of a video camera as she delivers a speech at the lower house of Parliament, Berlin, September 11. (AFP)

TUNIS - Germany is preparing to hold an international conference on Libya, a move that would remove the dossier of the war-torn North African country from being caught in the French-Italian rivalry that has escalated in recent years.

Informed sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that the international conference is being prepared in a manner that aims to avoid the mistakes of the Paris conference in May and the Palermo conference last November. 

The German conference aims to come up with actionable recommendations for the crisis in Libya, which cannot withstand the consequences of another international failure.

The sources confirmed that the new conference will be held in Germany in November, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel held serious dialogues about it with a number of world leaders late last month at the G7 summit in France.

At the end of that summit, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the G7 Group affirmed its full support of Libya and stressed the need for a permanent ceasefire and a political solution to ensure stability. He also hinted at an upcoming international conference involving all parties concerned with the issue.

Merkel is making efforts to reach a comprehensive peace process in Libya that takes into consideration the current situation on the ground, while making sure not to limit the process to just the political and military wings of the crisis, since there are other no less important social components that must be included in the process. Previous initiatives have made the mistake of focusing on just on the warring sides from eastern and western Libya and neglected to include other influential groups. 

The Arab Weekly sources explained that if Germany has chosen to get involved in the peace process in Libya at this time, it is because Berlin is convinced that the continued deterioration of the situation in Libya is a ticking time bomb when it comes to the file of illegal immigration. 

The Germans believe that their internal security measures will not completely end the migration crisis, as long as there remain areas of chaos through which illegal migrants could trickle into Europe.   

The Arab Weekly sources added that any direct sponsorship from France or Italy will not be accepted by many parties in the conflict in Libya. After the failures of the Paris and Palermo conferences, the political images of the French and Italian sides were severely shaken and there was a need for another party that is not accused of bias to one of the parties to the conflict, such as Germany. 

“Concerned about the situation in Libya, Germany shares the view of many that a renewed effort for the stabilization of Libya is necessary,” Oliver Owcza, Germany’s ambassador to Libya, said on Twitter.

 “Building on the 3-step plan presented by [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Ghassan Salame to the [United Nations Security Council], Germany therefore initiated a consultation process with key international partners. With sufficient preparatory work these efforts could lead towards a meaningful international event this fall,” Owcza added. 

The German move is supported by major powers that had bet on the ability of the Libyan National Army to quickly achieve a military solution to the situation in Tripoli. 

The German move in the Libyan file was met with positive reactions from the United States, France and Britain. Germany is believed not to have a hidden agenda in Libya. 

“Germany would be a good idea for the fact that it hasn’t been exactly involved in supporting either side of the conflict but also because of its influence in the European Union and beyond,” said Emad Badi, a Libya researcher, told Reuters. 

The ambassadors of the United States, Britain, France and Germany to Libya discussed on September 9 the chances of returning to the political process in Libya. Present at the meeting was US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Schenker.

Shenker’s meeting with the ambassadors of the four countries was said to be part of the “ongoing international efforts to stop the fighting in Tripoli and quickly return to the political process mediated by the United Nations.”

Prior to meeting with the ambassadors, Schenker had met in Tunis on September 7 with the UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh, and discussed with him the current situation and the current regional and international entitlements related to Libya.

Official political circles such as the National Accord Government in Tripoli and the dominant political Islam movement in this government are concerned about these new developments, fearing that they will not be given the status given to them in previous conferences. Therefore, these parties demanded the convening of a national conference first, and instructed their armed battalions to launch military operations and regain their momentum to prevent the Libyan National Army forces from scoring a decisive victory in Tripoli.

Other Libyan circles were wary of the proposed international conference, because its outcome might not be accepted by all parties, prompting the losers to threaten to sabotage the conference unless they obtain specific gains.

Diplomatic sources stressed to The Arab Weekly the importance of good preparation for the international conference and of providing adequate guarantees for its implementation through mechanisms that will rehabilitate the official Libyan institutions as the only body entrusted with the implementation of the outputs of the peace process. They also emphasized the need for a good plan to find a practical solution to the unusually high number of weapons in the hands of militias and to the spread of terrorism, in addition to holding some countries like Turkey accountable for breaking international law by smuggling weapons, mercenaries and extremists into Libyan territory in order to perpetuate the conflict. 

This conference appears to be part of the plan prepared by UN envoy Ghassan Salameh. It will be followed by a national forum. Salameh is trying to find support for his plan from some capitals concerned with the crisis in Libya and from the various Libyan parties, in order to guarantee its success. 

In his last statement to the Security Council on September 4, Salameh announced that he and international actors had begun to reach a consensus on an international conference of the parties concerned, which would clearly contribute to ending the conflict and to resuming the political process.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to renew Ghassan Salameh’s mandate for another year as UN envoy to Libya, giving him greater powers that will enable him to move quickly towards a political settlement and end the situation of a chronic war.

The National Libyan Army, under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter, has accused Salameh of being biased towards the Islamists in Tripoli, which has cast heavy shadows on Slameh’s credibility and mission. Salameh, however, has started readjusting his movements and positions to show that he is a fair mediator.