Merkel urges withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya

“The Chancellor stressed that an early start of the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries would send an important signal,” said a German spokesman
Thursday 06/05/2021
People watch a video screen displaying German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her speech in Berlin, on May 5, 2021 at the Kunstmuseum in The Hague. (AFP)
People watch a video screen displaying German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her speech in Berlin, on May 5, 2021 at the Kunstmuseum in The Hague. (AFP)

BERLIN--German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Turkey on Wednesday to proceed with an “early” withdrawal of thousands of foreign fighters from Libya in order to bolster the Libyan interim government.

Merkel made the remarks during a video conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

The two leaders agreed to provide support to the new government led by Abdulhamid Dbeibeh and to send aid as well as helping organise elections due at the end of the year, Seibert said.

Libya’s interim government came into being in March, replacing two rival administrations — one based in Tripoli and the other in the country’s east.

The previous Tripoli-based administration relied heavily on Turkish military backing to repel a 2019-20 offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who was in turn backed by the eastern administration and foreign powers ranging from Egypt to Russia.

“The Chancellor stressed that an early start of the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries would send an important signal,” the German spokesman added.

Libya’s new interim government on Monday had urged Turkey to “cooperate” over the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from the country, to help bolster a seven-month-old ceasefire.

But Ankara has shown so far no intent to remove the thousands of mercenaries and loyal militants it has dispatched to Libya.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was visiting Tripoli earlier this week criticised those who “suggest… the Turkish presence in Libya is equivalent to that of illegitimate groups”.

The establishment of the new government in Libya has generated a cautious hope that the country can move beyond the conflict and chaos that has entrapped it since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.

But the continued presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries, estimated by the UN at 20,000, is widely perceived as a threat to the transition process and to peace and stability in Libya and its region.