Berlin: World leaders meeting in Berlin agreed to work toward a more durable ceasefire in Libya’s civil war, which has seen Russia and Turkey giving military support to different groups as countries outside Libya jockey for access to its key energy supplies.
Eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia but walked out of truce talks in Moscow last week, and Libya’s internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayaz Al Sarraj will now put forward five names from each side to hash out the terms of a more permanent truce, with the United Nations pushing for a meeting of that committee in Geneva within days.
Still, some five hours of formal discussion in Germany on Sunday also reflected the fragility of any truce. Haftar has led a months-long assault on Tripoli, and even on Sunday a spokesman for Al Sarraj’s government said fighting had again erupted in a suburb south of the capital.
Neither Al Sarraj nor Haftar were in the room for the summit on Sunday, and organisers were careful to ensure they did not cross paths in Berlin. Instead they were holed up for some of the day at separate hotels in the city.
Oil exports blocked
Ahead of the Berlin conference, supporters of Haftar moved to block oil exports at ports under his control, slashing Libya’s output by more than half. Al Sarraj deemed that show of force a sign Haftar isn’t ready for peace. Serious questions remain over the ability to monitor forces and get ragtag fighters to put down guns.
Sunday’s meeting was called with the aim of ending foreign intervention in Libya’s civil war and violations of the UN arms embargo.
If Haftar, who has led a months long assault on the capital, Tripoli, relents and signs the truce deal alongside Turkey-backed Al Sarraj, the next phase would involve Libyan officials working to unite the country’s institutions and hold elections for the first time since 2014.
“I’m not under any illusion that this won’t be a difficult path,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Sunday evening. She met separately with Haftar and Al Sarraj before the conference officially began.
No military support
Merkel said the leaders who attended — they included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — agreed not to provide more military support to those inside Libya, and to work toward a political solution. And she said a fair distribution of Libya’s oil revenues would be part of any peace process.
Failure to get Haftar completely on board risks seeing the holder of Africa’s largest proven oil reserves spiral into a major conflagration drawing in regional and international powers further, as happened in Syria. Russian mercenaries back Haftar’s forces. Turkish soldiers are training forces loyal to Al Sarraj, and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have also joined the conflict.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he expected the military officials from the warring sides to meet “in the next few days.”
“I cannot stress enough the summit’s conclusion that there is no military solution to the conflict in Libya,” he told reporters. “All participants have mentioned it several times during the meeting, even those that are more directly involved in the conflict itself.”
Officials from the UAE and Egypt used the Berlin meeting to urge Haftar to agree to a deal, according to a senior Arab official with knowledge of the discussions.
The summit should be seen as only a small step given Al Sarraj and Haftar were not part of the formal talks around it, according to a senior US official who asked not to be identified discussing the meeting. For a real shot at ending the fighting the two main protagonists need to be more involved, the official said, and it’s not even clear they have sufficient control of their fighters to ensure a ceasefire holds.
Libya has been in turmoil since the 2011 Nato-backed ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, which ushered in years of instability that has left thousands dead, allowed Islamist extremists to dig in, and divided the country between rival administrations in Tripoli and the eastern city of Tobruk.
The North African nation is also a gateway for refugees into Europe, so an end to the chaos there would be a critical achievement for governments on the continent grappling with anti-immigrant sentiment. It would also remove a key uncertainty for the oil market. On Sunday, Libya’s biggest oilfield began to halt production after unidentified protesters shut down a key pipeline, compounding the other supply disruptions.
Russia and Turkey are jockeying for influence in the Mediterranean, and have been key in the latest push for a Libyan ceasefire. Turkey recently signed a maritime border deal with Al Sarraj’s government that would be key to Ankara’s aspirations for more clout in the resource-rich waters of the Mediterranean. Turkish contractors would also like to revive billions of dollars in contracts abandoned in the chaos after Qaddafi’s overthrow.
Access to Libyan oil is a major incentive for Putin, who may also use his leverage to secure concessions from Erdogan in both Libya and Syria. Erdogan attended the Berlin summit though he departed more than 30 minutes before it ended, leaving his foreign minister behind in Berlin.
The US has been paying more attention to the Libyan conflict since Russia’s entry, and was represented in Berlin by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. On Sunday, Pompeo called on Libyans via Twitter to “seize this opportunity” to address their internal divisions.
Washington had held Libya at arm’s length since the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi in 2012, and under President Donald Trump, sent mixed messages to Libya’s rival administrations. But it became more involved in pushing for an end to the fighting after Russian mercenaries were deployed in September.
The US has a counter-terrorism mission in Libya, and its operations have been complicated by the fighting, a State Department official said on condition of anonymity. The broadening Libyan conflict is looking increasingly like Syria, which is why the whole international community is getting together in Germany, said the official, who wasn’t authorised to speak on the record.