Berlin proposals unlikely to end Libyan conflict

Summit leaders call on all parties involved to accept ceasefire and resume political process

German chancellor Angela Merkel, regional leaders and Russian president Vladimir Putin (front right) gather during a peace summit on Libya at the chancellery in Berlin. Photograph: Getty

German chancellor Angela Merkel, regional leaders and Russian president Vladimir Putin (front right) gather during a peace summit on Libya at the chancellery in Berlin. Photograph: Getty

 

The weekend’s Berlin summit on Libya did not end fighting or ensure a peaceful resolution of the country’s civil conflict, but it may discourage external powers from transforming it into a Syria-style proxy war.

Convened on Sunday by German chancellor Angela Merkel, the summit brought together world and regional leaders with the aim of enforcing a tentative ceasefire and a United Nations arms embargo.

Among those attending were the external players who have armed and reinforced the warring sides.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Italy’s prime minister Guiseppe Conte support the besieged UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, his Russian and French counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron, and Emirati crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed, are the main backers of rebel general Khalifa Haftar, who represents a rival regime in Tobruk.

On January 12th, Erdogan and Putin issued a joint call for a ceasefire which was accepted by Tripoli-based prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj but not Haftar. They were in Berlin but did not hold direct talks.

The Berlin summit committed external actors to refrain “from interference in the armed conflict” and called on them to respect the UN arms embargo and stop providing financial aid and mercenaries to the warring sides.

The summit’s final statement asks UN monitors to investigate breaches of the arms embargo and enforce sanctions on violators. The document calls on all parties involved to accept a ceasefire, withdraw heavy weapons and aerial vehicles, take steps to dismantle armed groups and militias and resume the political process.

Berlin’s recipe is unlikely to end the conflict. Even if the embargo is enforced, both sides are heavily armed and well supplied with mercenaries so they can continue fighting.

The conflict has roots in a long-standing struggle for power between Haftar’s east and Sarraj’s west. Strong pressure and sanctions could discourage or reduce external intervention.

Why is Europe worried?

Europe is seriously concerned about Libya for four reasons:

  • Libya is Europe’s back yard and what happens there is bound to have implications for countries along the southern shore of the Mediterranean;
  • Haftar and his allies have shut down output at Libya’s oil fields, which constitute the ninth largest global oil reserves. Some 32 per cent of Libyan oil is exported to Italy, 14 per cent to Germany and 10 per cent to France;
  • Since the 2011 uprising against the government of Muammar Gadafy, Libya has ceased being a destination for African migrants seeking asylum and jobs and has instead become the main north African transit country. The escalation in the Libyan conflict is exerting pressure on tens of thousands of African refugees to resort to dangerous smuggling routes to reach European shores, where they are not welcome;
  • Although Haftar has taken control of large swathes of territory in southern Libya, his army is fighting Sarraj’s militiamen and neither is capable of containing renegade and jihadi groups.The south, in particular, remains a haven for armed tribal elements, bandits and Islamic State and al-Qaeda elements who conduct cross-border operations into neighbouring states, destabilising insecure sub-Saharan countries, and could send militants to attack European targets.
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