Photo: Angela Merkel invited representatives of a total of twelve states to Berlin, to the Conference on Libya. In recent years the country has become one of the most important transit countries for refugees heading north. Credit: Bundesregierung/Bergmann - Photo: 2020

UN In Search of a Way Out of Passive Role in Libya

By Erol Avdović, WebpublicaPress

NEW YORK (IDN) – The United Nations has “some capacity to report back on ceasefire violations” and monitor the fragile peace in Libya, said chief spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric, replying to this reporter’s question. The ceasefire was holding immediately after agreement was reached on January 19 in Berlin at the conference on Libya.

This high-profile international meeting was widely rated as very successful, though the situation in Libya continues to be described as chaotic and a source of insecurity throughout the Mediterranean basin.

Monitoring the ceasefire is a part of UN’s mandate as outlined in the Secretary General’s latest report on Libya, Dujarric reminded.

But, Mr. Dujarric also pointed out that there is no massive UN capacity on the ground “to do full‑scale monitoring”. In the meantime, Ghassan Salame, since June 2017 UN special representative and chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is back to Tripoli.

He is in full gear UN mission “trying to convene” the Libyan Joint Military Committee “to initiate discussions” that the UN “hope would lead to a permanent ceasefire,” as UN spokesperson told WPP. Mr. Dujarric also said, the UN is working on the political dialogue platform as well.

UN is prizing the Berlin Conference on Libya for underlining the spirit of multilateral cooperation with several national governments attending, including the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and head of the UNSMIL, Mr. Salame. They all “worked very closely with the German authorities”. UN says the conference was very well led and organized by Chancellor Angela Merkel along with senior diplomats from the German Chancellery and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Notwithstanding this high-level exchange of diplomatic compliments on the New York-Berlin route it is far from certain to what extent the Germany organized peace gathering will bring the much-needed truce as a useful intermezzo to devise genuine negotiations.

Some analysts are comparing the Berlin based negotiations with those of Dayton terming it as “Mini Dayton”. The reference is to the U.S. brokered Dayton Peace Conference in Ohio 1995, which brought peace to Bosnia and Herzegovina after four years of brutal war.

The U.S. talks on Bosnia were conducted in a kind of diplomatic quarantine and lasted for three weeks until agreement was reached. The Berlin process in reality was at least a bit of that “Dayton atmosphere,” but far different at its core.

The glowing Libyan desert indicates a different perspective when it comes to the mutual trust of warring parties. The similarity is that it is certainly under the auspices of those big and powerful countries, much more than the UN itself, so that Libya could get out of the tunnel with no light at its end.

Erdogan and Putin differ on Libya

Recently, Turkey has become an important factor in Libya sending its troops on the ground. Ankara clearly has its favourites in this battle.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, General Khalifa Haftar who is fighting against the UN recognized Libyan government forces is already and repeatedly violating Libya’s truce. Thus, Haftar cannot be expected to respect the ceasefire agreed in Berlin, he said. Without mentioning Washington and Moscow Mr. Erdogan stated, the international support for Libyan National Army (LNA) “was spoiling Haftar”.

“At this point, we need to see clearly what Haftar’s identity is. He is a man who has betrayed his superiors before as well,” the Turkish media quoted Erdogan saying.

According to knowledgeable sources, about half of Haftar’s LNA forces consist of several militias including “Madkhali” Salafists, militants, armed gunmen from Sudan, Chad, and also Russian mercenaries, known as the “Wagner Group” (“Группа Bагнера“ – original in Russian).

“Wagner” is considered to be a private military contracting agency with close ties to Kremlin. Its contractors are reportedly coming from various countries including some Balkan states. They have taken part in different conflicts, like in the civil war in Syria on the side of the government in Damascus, and in the war for Ukraine in Eastern part, Donbass area.

By supporting official government in Tripoli led by Fayez al-Sarraj and being so openly against General Haftar, official Ankara is at odds with Moscow. Although Ankara meanwhile has warmed up with Moscow in various segments of military, trade and political cooperation, Mr. Erdogan openly slammed Russian’s support for their mercenaries on General Haftar’s side.

UN powerless and with tied hands again

Western countries, Russia, Turkey, the UAE and Egypt agreed in Berlin to uphold an existing arms embargo on Libya. The UN often states that the only possible solution in such situations is a political agreement, and that new weapons are merely refuelling the conflict.

The UN Mission in Libya said in a statement that since the Berlin agreement “numerous cargo and other flights have been observed landing at Libyan airports in the Western and Eastern parts of the country providing the parties with advanced weapons, armoured vehicles, advisers and fighters”.

Also, UNSMIL has condemned these “ongoing violations, which risk plunging the country into a renewed and intensified round of fighting”.

“It is not possible to expect mercy and understanding from someone like this (Haftar) on the ceasefire,” Mr. Erdogan said before leaving for Algeria and other African countries for a few days’ tour to the continent.

The Turkish leader has pointed his finger at the rebel Libyan General who among others enjoys the support of both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In fact, official Washington has never condemned Haftar’s action against government in Tripoli. Mr. Erdogan criticized the General for his “continuing attacks” with “all his resources” against official Libyan Government Army (GNA).

“However, he (Haftar) will not be successful here,” the Turkish president asserted.

Haftar’s LNA possesses significant military including air force and some navy. However, most of the Libyan Navy is loyal to the Government National Army. Since December 2015. the national government of Libya is led by former parliamentarian now prime minister Fayez al-Sarajji.

As in other similar cases all over the world, it seems that the Libyan civil war will not be stopped only by the Libyans’ determination to end conflict that is destroying this rich country in the Maghreb region in North Africa since 2011. (Colonel Moammar el-Gaddafi ruled Libya with the iron fist from 1969 until his assassination in October 2011 when he was ousted from the power).

“The Libyan sin is to be that very rich,” says Stefano Vaccara, professor at the New York Leman College, also a UN correspondent for Rome based “Radio Radicale and Editor in Chief of “La Voce di New York”. Vaccara, who is familiar with the issue told WebpublicaPress that Libya has long been regarded as a “very useful prey”.

Unfortunately, Libya is another country that, due to its extremely rich oil fields is experiencing the sad fate of other Middle Eastern nations, said Vaccara. And he is not very optimistic about the final outcome of the Berlin process, since a lot of participants with quite different agenda are involved. Vaccara also sees the UN as a passive factor that objectively cannot do much.

 “One would argue that Italy should have been involved in this process (in Berlin), because in some ways that country depends on Libyan oil. Unlike France, Italy does not have atomic power plants and Libyan oil is important to Italy. So, any extension of the Libyan agony indirectly affects Italy,” professor Vacara told WPP. He added that the absence of official Rome from these peace talks in Germany is a proof of how deep the political crisis in Italy is and how week is their international standing.

Libya became an Italian colony after the Italo-Turkish war and remained a colony for more than three decades, 1910 to1947. In 1934 the official name of the country was “Italian Libya,” although Rome faced rivalry in France and Great Britain on the Libyan soil. Indeed, much of modern Italian history is tied to this African country.

Turkey’s presence in the Berlin process, Vacara says “is not a good sign,” since Libya was also an Ottoman colony. He says Ankara’s involvement could hint at “aspirations for partition”, along the “historic lines between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania”.

The Western and Eastern parts of the country known by these names – Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were under Islamic rule that began as early as the 7th century.

“It is complicated,” Vaccara confesses. But it is precisely because of all the historical experience – the Berlin Libyan conference has only made just few steps forward and a fresh start, but with still not quite certain epilogue.

UN’s optimism

In Berlin, a special committee made up of five military officials from each side was agreed, just to uphold the fragile truce and to try to move forward with some sort of political upgrade.

The committee is scheduled to meet in Geneva, but Turkish president seems rather very upset – alarmed at Haftar’s disrespect of the truce. Turks clearly do not trust this General at all. And Mr. Erdogan said he does not expect any results from Libyan committee either.

Yet, UN spokesperson told WPP, it was “very much appreciated” that this international conference (in Berlin) “was fed into the Libyan‑owned and the Libyan‑led process, which is being facilitated by the United Nations.”

Mr. Dujarric said the participants “worked very closely with all those parties that were invited”. The United Nations were “encouraged by the calls of the participants in the Berlin Conference for a full‑fledged ceasefire,” Dujarric stressed. And this is only the beginning.

UN is hoping “there would be a number of other Libya meetings on the different tracks that Mr. Salame has outlined”.

“We are working actively to try to support such calls, and we urge all (UN) member states to put pressure on both sides to make sure that the guns fall silent.”

While on the ground the special representative Ghassan Salame is in constant consultation with the UN Headquarters in New York and is trying to do everything to maintain the ceasefire in Libya by bringing the views of the warring parties closer together.

But the knowledgeable wonder: Can pressure indeed work in this kind of a situation? We have seen before in many different situations similar kind of optimism that ended only with the purchase of expensive time, unfortunately with more victims who were waiting for salvation in vain. And too often we have also seen a partial or complete diplomatic defeat of the United Nations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 January 2020]

Photo: Angela Merkel invited representatives of a total of twelve states to Berlin, to  the Conference on Libya. In recent years the country has become one of the most important transit countries for refugees heading north. Credit: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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