Germany proceeds with Libya conference after failed Russian mediation

Questions are being asked about what the meeting in Berlin can achieve if the Libyan belligerents intend to continue fighting.
Wednesday 15/01/2020
German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a journalist's question as Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at his watch during their joint news conference, in Moscow, January 11. (AFP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a journalist's question as Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at his watch during their joint news conference, in Moscow, January 11. (AFP)

TUNIS - Despite the setback in Moscow’s mediation between the two Libyan factions, the German government said that a Libya peace conference will take place in Berlin January 19.

Efforts by Moscow, backed by Turkey, to bring an end to fighting around Tripoli had hit a wall after the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, refused to sign a ceasefire agreement after rejecting the conditions pinned to it and flew out of Moscow along with his delegation.

Haftar is said to have been angered by the demand by Fayez Sarraj, head of the besieged Government of National Accord (GNA), that he pull his forces back to their positions prior to April 4, when he launched his offensive against Tripoli.

Sarraj also reportedly refused Haftar’s demand that the pro-GNA militias and militant groups in Tripoli be disbanded.

Sarraj, though, is said by the Russians to have signed the agreement. He also left Moscow, as did the other key players in the Libyan crisis – President of the Libyan House of Representative Ageela Saleh, the head of the Tripoli-based State Council,  Khaled Mishri, and the head of the Tripoli-based House of Representatives breakaway group, Sadiq al-Kahaili. Sarraj flew to Turkey to liaise on the next steps with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

According to some Russian sources, the departures are temporary and Haftar is simply leaving for a couple of days to evaluate the deal but will return. On January 13, he said that he wanted a day to assess it.

Events relating to Libya had been moving at breakneck speed and appeared to be heading towards a possible peaceful settlement after nine months of fighting around Tripoli.

On January 8, at a meeting in Istanbul, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan had called for a ceasefire and for the two sides to resume negotiations.  This, although accepted by Sarraj, was immediately rejected by Haftar, who insisted that, before any dialogue cold take place, the militants and militias in Tripoli had to be crushed.

Accepting a ceasefire would, according to observers, have blocked his plans of taking the city.

However, on January 11, Haftar changed his mind and accepted the ceasefire – the result, it is said, of pressure from Russia and possibly Egypt as well.

He, along with Sarraj and the various other key Libyan players, then turned up in Moscow for the ceasefire negotiations.

Amid this turn of events, it was reported that the much-delayed Berlin conference, originally proposed by the German government last summer to pave a solution to the Libyan crisis, would then go ahead on January 19.

Despite the latest apparent setback in Moscow, the German government says that the summit in Berlin will still take place as schedules and that the five permanent UN Security Council members, along with Turkey, Italy, Egypt and a number of African and Middle Eastern states, have been invited as well as representatives of the UN, EU, African Union and Arab League.

Questions, however, are being asked about what the meeting can achieve if the Libyan belligerents, even though not invited, intend to continue fighting.

According to Erdogan, a ceasefire will be a main point of discussion at the Berlin talks.

Nevertheless, he is also in a hostile mood.  He told a meeting of his party in Ankara on January 14 that he would “teach a deserved lesson” to Haftar if he resumed fighting.

“The putschist Haftar did not sign the ceasefire. He first said yes but later unfortunately he left Moscow. He fled Moscow,” Erdogan said.

“Despite this, we find the talks in Moscow were positive as they showed the true face of the putschist Haftar to the international community.”

In a potentially dangerous development, he added that Turkey had to defend “Turkish” Libyans – a reference to the descendants of those who settled in what is now Libya during the period of the Ottoman empire. “It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya,” Erdogan said.

Concerns have been growing over the past month that Libyans of Turkish descent, especially those in Misrata, are being singled out as an issue in the conflict – either being blamed for supporting the GNA and the Muslim Brotherhood and accused of trying to control the country or, as now, seen as a reason to intervene.

Despite the acceptance by both Haftar and Sarraj of the ceasefire, clashes in Tripoli’s southern suburbs have continued.

Turkish forces are also said to be preparing bases in both Tripoli and Misrata from which to carry out military operations against the LNA.