Foreign Troops Exit, Elections Call for Libya

Berlin 2 Conference Sets Goals for Smooth Political Transition
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) attends a meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh (R) at the Marriott Hotel in Berlin, Germany, on June 24, 2021. (Getty)

The Berlin 2 Conference held on June 23 discusses Libya’s political process and the Dec. 24 elections, with the participation of international actors, including Turkey. The final statement consists of six sections: an introduction, security, the political process, economic and financial reforms, and compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights. The withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya is the central issue in the Berlin 2 conference.

The Conference is being held under the auspices of the United Nations and Germany with attendances: the head of Libya’s Presidential Council Mohammed al-Menfi, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, UN Special Envoy to Libya Jan Kubis, and the foreign ministers of the participating countries.

During the joint press conference on June 23, 2021, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stressed the need to remove mercenaries and foreign fighters before holding general elections in Libya during December 2021, and also to unify the Libyan army and enhance development of the Libyan economy.

The “Second Berlin Conference on Libya, held on June 23rd in response to invitations from the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and United Nations Secretary-General, brought together senior representatives of the governments of Algeria, China, Russia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which chairs the African Union Committee on Libya), Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Libya, Morocco, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, in addition to representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the League of Arab States.

The Fourth Point revealed that Libya was granted status of "full participant" compared to the previous conference. The Second Point focused on the recognition of the progress made since the first conference on January 19, 2020, namely, the cessation of hostilities, continuation of the ceasefire, lifting of the oil embargo, formation of an interim government and its granting of confidence by the House of Representatives.

The fourth, fifteenth and eighteenth points called on all parties to do more to hold the presidential and parliamentary elections as scheduled on December 24, 2021, and to allow the withdrawal of foreign forces and foreign mercenaries from Libya, as well as the respect and application of United Nations sanctions and use of national measures against whomever violates the arms embargo or cease-fire.

United Nations Under-Secretary General for Political Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo (L), German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush speak to the media during the second international Libya conference on June 23, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Getty)

The final statement declared the importance of establishing unified Libyan security and defense forces under a unified civilian authority in accordance with Point 18, while Point 19 stipulated accelerating the dismantling and disarming of armed groups and militias, and the integration of some qualified persons into governmental institutions.

According to Point 24, the Berlin Conference called on all parties to stop financing militias or recruiting mercenaries and to commit to strengthening mechanisms for monitoring the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations, national authorities and the relevant international parties.

Point 15 stipulated taking further steps towards unifying the country and urged all parties to restore and respect the unity of the executive, legislative and judicial authorities in Libya. In particular, the Libyan authorities are demanded to be in the forefront of the House of Representatives “to make the necessary preparations for and hold free, fair and inclusive national Presidential and Parliamentary elections on 24 December 2021, including urgently and in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2570, the clarification of the constitutional basis for elections and the enactment of legislation as necessary.”

As for Point 20, it encouraged UN member states and international and regional organizations to send election observers in coordination with the Libyan authorities and the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.

Point 38 emphasized the provision of basic services to the Libyan people, the provision of water and electricity, medical and educational services, the fight against corruption and the revival of the national economy and the commitment to the reconstruction of the country.

Point 53 stipulates the closure of immigration and asylum-seeking detention centres, and the conformity of immigration and asylum legislation with international law and internationally recognized standards and principles

The most important conclusion of the Berlin Conference is the confirmation of the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Libya, supporting the transitional authority to hold the elections on 24th December 2021, and the presentation of the statement to the Security Council.

The points focused on supporting Libya in its efforts to protect its southern border and control the crossing of armed groups and weapons across the border.

The Berlin 2 Conference gave a new “push” to the peace process because the Libyan parliament and the government alone could not move the process forward and this led to the escalation of tensions between rival groups in Libya again recently.

European expert Claudia Gazzini believes that there are significant obstacles to achieving long-term peace in the civil war-torn country. The researcher at the "International Crisis Group" said that the conference could give a new impetus to the peace process.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said that the Berlin 2 Conference on Libya confirmed the existing agreements and supported the political settlement process. After meeting with the main participants, namely, the German organizers, the Turks and the Egyptians, the Russian “Sputnik” agency quoted the Russian official representing his country in the conference as saying that the conference is considered supportive of the political process in Libya.

The US special envoy to Libya, Richard Norland, said that his country calls for the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, and not to wait until after the elections, noting that Washington is conducting negotiations with the parties in Libya. He confirmed that there is progress on reopening the coastal road between eastern and western Libya, but he stressed that this is not enough.

Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (C), Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Guler (2nd R) and officials meet with Turkish soldiers in Libya, Tripoli on May 04, 2021. (Getty)

The Berlin conference was held after extensive efforts to dismantle the involvement of foreign forces and mercenaries, whose main cards are in the hands of Moscow and Ankara. Therefore, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron stressed in their meeting a few days before the conference that Europe faces "big challenges" in dealing with both Russia and Turkey. The two countries, Moscow and Ankara, have become a challenge to Europe because of their military and security activities that threaten European security, starting from Ukraine to the Caucasus, then in the eastern Mediterranean from Syria to Libya.

European countries are waiting for the United States of America to support the Berlin Conference, specifically in the face of the Russian and Turkish position within the Berlin Conference on Libya, and it seems that Europe is seeking to have a political role in the countries of the region to bring peace to Libya.

The Europe Countries depend heavily on the "IRINI" military mission to secure the Libyan sea and air borders and monitor armaments operations.

It is very important to integrate the neighboring countries of Libya into effective participation in security and military arrangements in terms of establishing the ceasefire. However, the foreign forces and mercenaries’ problem remains the most difficult obstacle in the Libyan crisis.

The United Nations estimated the number of mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya at about 20,000, and hundreds of Turkish soldiers are deployed under a bilateral agreement concluded with the former Tripoli government

The Libyan crisis posed a new challenge to international and regional powers, starting with the complex nature of the crisis and ending with the conflict and the differences between these countries regarding their positions on the Libyan matter. There is also disagreement regarding the methods and mechanisms that should be used in order to settle the conflict in Libya.

The event that represented a shift in the course of the Libyan crisis was Turkey's direct entry into the dispute, in an attempt to undermine European influence in Libya and the North African region. This has further complicated the ways to solve the Libyan problem, especially since the European Union countries have expressed their reservations on the one hand, and also their differing positions towards the Libyan crisis on the other hand.

The most prominent challenges of the Berlin Conference 2 were the Russian and Turkish position regarding the expulsion of mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya, despite the military efforts made by Europe to monitor ships in the eastern Mediterranean together with international monitoring in order to ban the export of arms to Libya and the smuggling of fighters. Europe has nothing but sanctions against people and companies that have become an ineffective mechanism.

Some media leaks mentioned the possibility of preparing for a new conference in London after the Second Berlin Conference focusing on the mercenary issue, aiming to create field pressure and military plans to expel the mercenaries. The US role will remain important. Without US support, the Berlin Conference will remain incomplete, perhaps weak, and unable to implement the conference's outcomes. This would put Europe's experience of having a regional role to the test.

It seems that the demands of the Libyan side were incompatible with the declared agenda of the conference, as its objectives were limited to protecting the interests of external parties more than the interests of the Libyan people. There are still economic ambitions which are of interest to European countries as well as regional and international parties, as were advanced in the first Berlin Conference. These were supposed to be solved before the elections, but these goals seem almost impossible.

The withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya is still a central topic in the Second Berlin Conference because external forces are widely feeding the conflict in the country and also placing obstacles in the way of implementing the understandings of the Libyan parties on the path to settling the crisis. The chances of the Berlin 2 conference’s success were very narrow because of the contradiction between the regional and international agendas as well as the fact that most countries support one of the two camps.

Therefore, international and regional parties should refrain from external interference in Libya, disarm militias under the supervision of the United Nations, and Turkey should withdraw its forces, foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, within a mechanism under the supervision of the United Nations and the European Union.

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Jassim Mohamad is a researcher who focuses on international security and counter-terrorism. His work covers Europe, the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran and Yemen), and African Sahel. He is the head of the European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies ECCI.