The world powers are meeting in Berlin on Wednesday to seek lasting peace in Libya, ensuring that the conflict-ridden North African country stays on track for the December 24 general election.
Representatives of the Libyan interim government will join US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, as well as the French and Egyptian foreign ministers in the UN-sponsored talks.
Efforts to end a decade-long spiral of violence in Libya were the second in Berlin since the presidents of Turkey, Russia and France first attended in January 2020.
Ahead of Wednesday’s talks, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reminded participants of promises to end international unrest last year and to withdraw foreign fighters or troops.
“Those who promised to go to Berlin for the last time did not keep their word,” Maas told Die Welt.
“In order for the Libyans to decide the fate of their country again, foreign forces must leave. “The transitional government has also made that clear,” he said.
The UN estimates that 20,000 foreign mercenaries are still in Libya. A presence seen as a threat to the UN-recognized transition leading to elections.
In 2011, a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, leaving Libya in turmoil.
The country was later divided between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), a rival administration in the east, each in the capital, Tripoli, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, the renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces stationed in the east, with the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, attempted to capture Tripoli.
His 14-month campaign failed after Turkey stepped up its support for the Tripoli government with advanced military equipment, troops and thousands of mercenaries.
In October, after Turkish-backed GNA forces defeated Haftar’s forces, the two camps agreed to cease fire.
Russian, Turkish presence
Since then, the security situation in Libya has been slowly improving. However, the UN has recently warned that progress has stalled, especially on the key need for inquiries to withdraw all foreign troops.
Western leaders have repeatedly called on foreign fighters to leave. But in the east, Russian mercenaries supporting Haftar are still there.
Turkey has troops in Tripoli, which, according to him, were sent by bilateral agreement with the government, which means that they are not affected by the request to send foreign troops.
But any withdrawal is a delicate balancing act, said the German Foreign Minister.
“Foreign forces must gradually and uniformly leave the country so that there is no sudden military imbalance that could be used on the one hand for a surprise attack,” Maas said.
Har al-Harchaoui, a senior researcher at the Global Initiative and an expert on Libya, also believed that the talks could provide tangible assistance in the upcoming elections.
“Someone may have a good idea to come to an agreement on a constitutional basis in July and run in the elections in December,” he said, referring to the main demand of the elections. “I think there is a good opportunity [for elections by year’s end] “The Berlin Process can help.”
Claudia Gazzini from the Crisis Group think tank warns that the path to lasting peace in Libya is still a long way off, but that the conference could bring new dynamism to the process.
“The Libyan parliament and the executive were not able to advance the process alone,” Gazini said. “This is why tensions between rival groups have risen again recently.”