Berlin road map for Libya yet to be tested

Ahmed Eleiba , Tuesday 21 Jan 2020

The Berlin conference on Libyan moved the crisis in the right direction after it had appeared that Ankara and Moscow were on the verge of commandeering the process

Al-Sisi arrives for a group picture during a Peace summit on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin, with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (photo: AFP)

From Cairo’s perspective, one of the Berlin conference’s successes is that it obviated Ankara’s bid to hijack the Libyan peace process. Cairo will now contribute to monitoring progress in implementing the Berlin agreement and will attend the follow-up committee that holds its first meeting in Geneva next week.

The committee will have 40 members, 13 from the Government of National Accord (GNA), an equal number from the Libyan Parliament, the head of the Libyan Supreme Court and 13 representatives of civil society, as agreed with the UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé.

Cairo is also relieved the Berlin conference managed to cap the dangerous escalation precipitated by Ankara’s decision to intervene militarily.

The conference, in which Cairo participated actively, marks a fresh start in the international drive to solve the Libyan conflict. According to Egyptian diplomatic sources, Cairo had important input in the summit’s closing statement. In general Cairo, like most of the other participants in the conference, was determined to halt the downward spiral in Libya due to foreign interventions seeking to fuel and prolong the fighting. Turkey has been particularly flagrant in its defiance of the international arms embargo to Libya, arming the radical militias allied with the GNA and sending hundreds of jihadists from Syria to support them. According to the Syrian Human Rights Observatory and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), there are now more than 1,000 mercenaries from Syria’s Turkish-backed Sultan Murad and Hamza regiments in Libya.  

The Berlin Summit was firm on the need to stamp out this threat. Point 6 of the Conference Conclusions states: “We commit to refraining from interference in the armed conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya and urge all international actors to do the same.” Point 18 states: “We commit to unequivocally and fully respect and implement the arms embargo established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011) and the Council’s subsequent Resolutions, including the proliferation of arms from Libya, and call on all international actors to do the same.”  

The proof of such resolve, of course, has yet to be tested. Sources in Cairo note that previous mechanisms for monitoring commitment to the arms embargo have failed. The most important — the International Embargo and Monitoring Committee and the maritime surveillance mission Sophia Operation — were both ineffective. In fact there was an increase in arms smuggling operations into Libya from at least 32 sources, according to UN reports. Even more recently, the GNA signed a military pact with Ankara from which it has received shiploads of heavy weaponry in recent months.

It appears that European powers are divided over the best way to enforce the embargo. Italy favours a return to the Sophia mechanism while other parties point to its failure and urge the search for a new and more effective alternative. Moscow supports the creation of an international monitoring committee, also favoured by Salamé.

Cairo, for its part, has made it clear that it is willing to take part in any international efforts towards enforcing the embargo.

In the wake of the conference a military committee will be set up to which the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj and the Libyan National Army’s Commander Khalifa Haftar have nominated five representatives each. Salamé has indicated that he will submit a proposal to this “5+5 military committee” outlining ways to end the import of mercenaries from Syria and elsewhere.

A diplomatic source who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly from Tripoli said the militias represent the greatest challenge to the Berlin process given how deeply embedded they are in both Tripoli and Misrata.

“These militias control everything. They control the security agencies, politics, and the economy which they run for their own benefit. These forces are large and heavily armed.”

Imported mercenaries represent a “more complex problem”.

“How do you convince the parties that brought them in to take them out? These parties have little incentive to do this since they believe the mercenaries promote their particular interests. Also, their numbers have proliferated. Is the UN going to fight them?”

In the opinion of this diplomatic source, Libya needs a national military in order to uproot the mercenaries.

In an interview aired on Libyan television Salamé said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been invited to Berlin because he had threatened to send Syrian fighters to Libya. In Berlin, Erdogan pledged not to intervene or send mercenaries: Salamé said this meant that he could now call Erdogan to account if he violates that commitment.

Erdogan told a local Libyan television station that he had not sent forces to Libya. Yet days earlier he had announced that he had sent forces on a training mission there. Moreover, his Libyan ally Al-Sarraj has acknowledged the presence of Turkish-backed mercenaries in Libya.

On the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the maritime border and the security agreement that Erdogan signed with Al-Sarraj, Salamé said: “The security agreement complicated certain things in Libya and intensified the escalation while the maritime MoU jeopardises European interests, especially those of Cyprus and Greece.

“The security agreement can be reaffirmed or abolished by a unified Libyan government. But the fate of the maritime MoU will be determined by the International Court of Justice because neither Libya nor Turkey have signed the international Law of the Sea convention.”

The Conference Conclusions mentioned four “baskets” of issues: countering terrorism and the militias; restructuring the security agencies; monitoring the arms embargo and ceasefire; and humanitarian concerns. Follow through on these matters will be undertaken by various committees while the UN assumes the lead in overseeing the implementation of the outputs of the summit.

According to both Libyan and Egyptian sources, the conference in Berlin marked the beginning of a new transitional phase in which a number of political and security steps will be gradually executed in the framework of a partial consensus among key international players. However, the process still lacks mechanisms to ensure commitment and penalise violations. They noted many of the points in the conclusions were more in the nature of “calls” or “appeals” and that it will be up to the International Follow-Up Committee (IFC), consisting of the foreign ministers of participant states at the conference, to flesh out the points and their executive measures. The IFC will have its first meeting next week.

As for the situation on the ground, sources in Libya told the Weekly that the truce is still fragile and that local stakeholders in the conflict will continue to jockey and manoeuvre in order to strengthen their hands. The sources stress that much remains in the air. The Berlin Conference did not address the specifics of the political process though a source in the Libyan Foreign Ministry said UNSMIL had submitted its proposals on the political process to both Al-Sarraj and Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the House of Representatives in Tobruk. He added that there is an agreement to continue discussions and the next steps will be determined in Geneva.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Berlin road map for Libya

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