Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 August 2020

Libya peace conference begins in Berlin as players seek to avoid another Syria

Several countries will be trying to broker a deal between the opposing sides

Two of the main parties to Libya's drawn-out conflict are in Berlin today in a bid to lay the groundwork for a peace resolution, overseen by international actors.

Libya has been mired in conflict since the 2011 fall of former ruler Muammar Qaddafi, fracturing the country between rival leaders fighting for control.

The latest fighting is between the Government of National Accord in Tripoli under Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj and the forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has camped on the southern outskirts of the capital since April.

Field Marshal Haftar is backed by the Benghazi-based House of Representatives, an elected parliament headed by Aguila Saleh. It is not yet clear if Mr Saleh will attend.

The nine months of fighting over the capital has left hundreds dead and catalysed other nations to make concerted efforts in brokering a peace agreement, with today's conference in Germany the latest attempt.

The UN estimates that about 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced during the conflict. This is on top of years of factional fighting since the Nato-led intervention in Libya to remove Qaddafi.

Sunday’s summit in Germany comes after a recent push by Russia and Turkey to agree a ceasefire. Russia brokered talks last week in Moscow but Field Marshal Haftar left without signing an accord.

As the conflict swirls, international backers of both sides have stepped up support for their allies on the ground.

Turkey recently deployed soldiers to Libya to back Mr Al Sarraj’s militias and have also paid Syrian proxy forces to relocate to the conflict. The UN envoy to the country, Ghassan Salame, confirmed the deployment in an interview on Saturday and put estimates at 1,000 to 2,000 fighters.

Turkey, meanwhile, has accused Russia of sending mercenaries to Libya to support Field Marshal Haftar’s forces, something Moscow denies.

The German government's long-term goal is "a sovereign Libya" and an "inner-Libyan reconciliation process," the invitation to the conference in Berlin read.

“I hope that the parties will take this opportunity to put the future of Libya back in Libyan hands,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in the lead-up to the talks. But the EU is divided on Libya, with France leaning towards support for Field Marshal Haftar while Italy, the former colonial power, is closer to Mr Al Sarraj.

The EU is also afraid of the crisis in Libya growing into a "scene of a proxy war or Libya becoming a second Syria" at its doorstep, said Mr Maas, and serving to reignite the migrant crisis that strained relations between EU members.

The last conference held in the EU to mediate between the Libyan factions was in Palermo, Italy. The Italian-backed effort achieved nothing.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also flew to Germany overnight. At the airport en route to the conference, Mr Erdogan said the Berlin talks are an "important step" to cement a Libyan ceasefire that has tentatively held since the Russian meeting last week.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also arrived in the city, meeting with UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed before the conference began.

Mr Pompeo has said that there can be no military solution to the fighting in Libya and that Washington had warned countries against sending weapons to Libya.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has threatened to block any ceasefire agreed in Berlin unless Turkey and the GNA abandon a maritime border agreement that disregards Greek sea rights in waters that could have significant natural gas deposits. The agreement has already been struck down by the Libyan House of Representatives, who say Mr Al Sarraj had no right to sign a deal without their agreement.

Greece, an EU member, was not invited to attend the conference in Berlin. Tunisia, Libya’s neighbour, was invited but will not attend.

Updated: January 19, 2020 05:33 PM

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