The US ceasefire plan for the Sirte-Jufra line appears to be gaining diplomatic traction among European powers to whom it is an opportunity to regain the initiative after Turkish influence in the West and Russian influence in the east eclipsed other stakeholders in the Libyan conflict. Meanwhile, Ankara and Doha continue to build up their military and political support for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
On Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made an unannounced visit to Tripoli to push for peace. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Qatari Defence Minister Khaled Bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah were also in the country. Three met separately with chairman of the Presidency Council Fayez Al-Sarraj and GNA Minister of Defence Fathi Bashagha.
Before his meeting with Al-Sarraj, Maas told journalists that he had come to Tripoli to “talk about ways out of this very dangerous situation” and urged the creation of a demilitarised zone in Sirte. He also warned of the “deceptive calm” that Libya is experiencing at the moment and that might lure some into complacency while outside powers “continue to massively arm the country while holding firm to their preconditions for a ceasefire”.
The German foreign minister said that Germany and European and international partners were prepared to support a political settlement to the Libyan crisis which, he feared, could spiral out of control in the event of military escalation. He also indicated that, after Tripoli, he planned to visit the UAE to meet his counterpart there, adding that Germany “expects the UAE to use [its] influence in a constructive manner and in the spirit of the Berlin Process”.
During his meeting with Maas, Al-Sarraj said his government had no objection to a ceasefire after it studies all its details and the “guarantees necessary to prevent a repetition of the aggression”. Asserting that the GNA was “the first to commit to the Berlin Process”, he recalled that he had signed the Russian-Turkish sponsored ceasefire agreement in Moscow on 12 January while Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar had refused. He warned of continued amassment of forces on the other side, referring to the Russian Wagner Group and “growing numbers of mercenaries”.
GNA Minister of the Interior Fathi Bashagha, in his meeting with Maas, urged Germany to include the Wagner Group in the European sanctions list. He underscored the GNA’s preconditions for a ceasefire. Referring to eastern forces, he said that “all mercenaries and militias must leave Sirte and Jufra and the National Oil Company must be allowed to resume oil production as a first step in a peace process in which war criminals will have no political future.” He said that he had given Maas files “documenting the crimes perpetrated by the militias and mercenaries” belonging to Haftar.
Maas, while in Tripoli, also met separately with Chairman of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) Mustafa Sanalla, reiterating Germany’s support for efforts to restore oil production. “During the meeting, the economic and environmental damages resulting from the blockade and the risks arising from them were discussed in relation to public safety, especially due to the militarisation of facilities and the presence of foreign mercenaries inside them,” read a statement posted on the NOC website.
“The meeting also addressed the importance of financial transparency in parallel with the restoration of security arrangements, the need to evacuate oil facilities of mercenaries and all manifestations of military presence, making them demilitarised buffer zones so that NOC employees can perform their work without jeopardising their lives, and not to use oil as a political bargaining chip, sparing it from military conflict.”
In his meetings with the Turkish and Qatari defence ministers while Maas was in Tripoli, Al-Sarraj discussed the amassment of eastern forces at the Sirte-Jufra front, programmes for building the defence and security capacities of GNA forces, and mechanisms for coordinating between the three countries’ defence ministries, according to a statement released by Al-Sarraj’s office. Following the meeting, Akar and Al-Attiyah visited the “Advisory Command Centre for Defence Cooperation and Training” that Ankara established as part of its military intervention on behalf of the GNA.
In a speech to Turkish military elements in Tripoli, Akar said that Ankara would continue to work “to realise its objectives in a lasting ceasefire in Libya” and to “preserve Libyan unity, peace and security.” He reiterated his government’s support for the GNA and praised Qatar’s support for it as well.
In eastern Libya, the House of Representatives in Tobruk reiterated the “exclusive right of the House or its delegates to represent the Libyan people”. In a statement released Sunday, the House added: “Any claim to the contrary is a crime punishable under current Libyan law in accordance with recognised criminal terms.” The statement was a response to attempts on the part of a group of Western based political forces to secure foreign support for the creation of new entities to take part in the political dialogue scheduled to convene shortly. A “Fezzan Council” was created for this purpose three weeks ago and is said to have received European support.
The House of Representatives, in its statement, cautioned against “the folly of pursuing any action, motivated by narrow transient considerations, that could jeopardise the integrity and unity of the state or render any inch of Libyan land vulnerable to foreign occupation and the return of colonialism under new guises”. According to the statement, lawmakers were currently deliberating a bill that would authorise “whatever actions necessary against any state, foreign entity or company, or regional or international organisation that deals with or recognises anybody that does not belong to an official institution of the Libyan state.”
The House of Representatives has been increasingly divided since April 2019 when Field Marshal Haftar launched the military operation to secure control of Tripoli and oust the GNA. Turkish military intervention on the side of the GNA reversed the tide of that war.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly