June 23, 2021, 9:03 p.m | By C. Riechau, M. Fischer, J. Kuhlmann, J. Sadek, dpa
Around 20,000 foreign fighters are said to be still active in Libya. Their withdrawal is considered an important prerequisite for peace in the country. Whether that will happen remains to be seen after the second Berlin Libya Conference.
At the Libya conference in Berlin, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and other countries pledged to withdraw all foreign fighters from the North African country. The withdrawal agreed as part of a ceasefire in October must be implemented in full and “without further delay,” according to the final statement at the conference on Wednesday.
At the first Libya conference a year and a half ago, the actors in the conflict decided to end military support for the conflicting parties. However, according to the latest UN estimates, 20,000 foreign forces are currently deployed in Libya.
Election in Libya on December 24th
At the invitation of Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the United Nations, high-ranking representatives from 16 countries and four international organizations took part in the conference, including the most important actors in the conflict such as Russia, Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The second important result, in addition to the goal of withdrawing troops, was the commitment to the election date of December 24, for which not all the prerequisites have yet been created.
Maas rated the conference as a success and was confident that the troop withdrawal can succeed. “We will not rest until the last foreign force (…) has left the country.” However, the foreign minister admitted that this can only happen gradually. The road to peace is not a sprint, but rather a marathon, he stressed.
The seven-page statement notes that Turkey expressed reservations about an immediate withdrawal at the conference. According to Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the background to this is a discussion about the fact that “regular forces” – for example for training security forces in the country – cannot be compared with mercenaries. “That kept us very busy today,” said Maas after the end of the conference. According to the declaration, all parties involved must refrain from actions that aggravate the conflict, including “financing military capabilities or recruiting foreign fighters and mercenaries”.
UN see elections in danger
Germany and other participants also emphasized the importance of the planned elections for the peace process in the civil war country. “Hardly anything will be as decisive for peace and stability as the nationwide elections on December 24,” said Maas. He called for the deadline for the vote to be met. “After decades of dictatorship and years of conflict, the people of Libya finally want to be heard.”
However, UN Secretary-General António Guterres sees the elections in danger. In a video speech, he warned that “urgent measures” were needed by the interim government to hold them off. “To this end, I call on the (Libyan) House of Representatives to clarify the constitutional basis for elections and to enact the necessary laws.”
Militias are fighting for power in Libya
After the fall of long-time ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011, Libya was engulfed in a civil war involving countless militias. General Chalifa Haftar, who controls large areas in eastern and southern Libya with his troops and allies, is particularly powerful. However, a ceasefire has been in effect since last year. This spring, mediated by the UN, an interim government was formed to lead the country to elections on December 24. However, there is currently no legal basis for this.
The parties to the conflict are supported by various foreign powers. Haftar is allied with Russia, Egypt and the UAE. In western Libya, Turkish troops are also deployed, who were brought into the country by the former government to prevent Haftar from advancing to the capital Tripoli.
Germany has also intervened in the conflict as a mediator for its own specific interests: important routes for refugees who are looking to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe lead through Libya.
Prime Minister: “There is no going back to war”
Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaiba said in Berlin that the situation in the country was critical but hopeful. Despite the many difficulties, he does not assume new battles. “We can say with one voice that there is no going back to war,” he said. At the same time, Dbaiba complained that there were still numerous obstacles on the way to the elections. He called on all those affected to stop “playing around” and block the process.
According to the UN, around 1.3 million people in Libya are dependent on humanitarian aid – an increase of 400,000 since last year. The living conditions and the supply of electricity and water, for example, remain poor for the majority of Libyans. People want an upswing in the economy. However, corruption and nepotism are widespread.