In Munich, diplomats reaffirm push for peace in Libya

LIbya follow-up meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Munich, Germany 16. February 2020. [MICHAEL DALDER / POOL]

A month after the Berlin Libya conference, participants at follow-up talks on Sunday (16 February) reaffirmed their commitment to secure the ceasefire. Meanwhile, Europeans discuss how to monitor the UN arms embargo against the war-torn North African country.

The talks on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference were the first follow-up as part of the Berlin process organised by the German government together with the United Nations, to keep up pressure to cut off outside military support for the warring parties.

On 19 January, the twelve participating states committed to end military support for the civil war combatants and uphold an existing UN arms embargo. However, repeated violations of the embargo have since been reported.

Since the Berlin summit, the rival Libyan factions have met in Geneva in a UN-led effort to forge a lasting truce.

A first round of talks ended with an agreement, though another round of talks is expected next week.

“It is now step by step to implement what was decided in Berlin,” said Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas ahead of the talks.

UN Special Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, who initially was meant to lead the talks, cancelled his participation for health reasons.

In a statement released after the meeting, all twelve participating states confirmed the Berlin decisions.

According to Maas, there had also been “very open” talks about the “numerous violations of the arms embargo” in the past few weeks, where the participants expressed “quite different opinions”, which led to the violations.

UN deputy envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, said the truce in Libya is only hanging by a thread, and that the economic situation is deteriorating. “The arms embargo has become a joke,” she said.

“It’s complicated because there are violations by land, sea and air, but it needs to be monitored and there needs to be accountability.”

“It is important to create transparency, and make clear that those who breach need to know that they will be detected,” Maas added.

“But everyone agrees that the path we have taken to separate the parties to the conflict from their supporters remains the only promising way to end the civil war in Libya,” Maas said, adding that “words agreed in Berlin now must be followed by deeds”.

Over the course of the weekend, the German foreign minister emphasised Turkey’s role in the struggle for a peace solution for Libya.

Ankara would be an important partner in the effort to turn the ceasefire “into a permanent and effective ceasefire”, said Maas after a bilateral meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu on Saturday.

UN deputy envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, said the truce in Libya was hanging by a thread, and that the economic situation is deteriorating. “The arms embargo has become a joke,” she said.
“It’s complicated because there are violations by land, sea and air, but it needs to be monitored and there needs to be accountability.”

Present at the meeting were UN Security Council members Russia, China and the US as well as foreign ministers from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, the main supporters of Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army, whose forces are fighting against the UN-backed Government of Nationality Accord led by Faiez el Serraj.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud has called for an end to outside interference in the Libyan civil war, explicitly criticising Turkey.

“Now there are troops coming from Syria who are being sent over by Turkey,” he said in Munich. “Of course, none of this helps at all and only brings more instability.”

The Saudi foreign minister also said he could envisage an international peace mission in Libya.

However, deployment of ‘boots on the ground’ in Libya is currently not an issue, but rather the question how to monitor the UN arms embargo at sea and from the air.

Maas announced a chair rotation for the Libya follow-up conferences. Italy will host the next meeting in Rome next month.

EU coordination on Libya

But while the Libya talks took place on the sidelines of the conference, Europe’s foreign policy-making took centre stage on Sunday.

EU foreign ministers are set to meet in Brussels on Monday (17 February) to reach a decision on the European contribution and whether and how to have naval ships enforce the UN arms embargo against Libya.

Particularly controversial is whether ships should also be used in a follow-up mission for the former EU naval mission “Sophia”.

Some EU countries, such as Austria, had rejected this, arguing that the naval ships would then also rescue migrants from Libya from distress in the Mediterranean and bring them to the EU.

It is not decisive what means of surveillance you choose, Maas said in Munich, adding that it would be more important that all ways for weapons delivery be monitored by air, water and land.

“Therefore, the surveillance regime must be able to do all three different ways of surveillance, otherwise one side will be disadvantaged,” Maas told reporters.

The internationally recognised Libyan government in Tripoli procures weapons by sea from Turkey, while Haftar, in the east of the country, is supplied by land or air from Egypt.

Speaking in Munich, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell expressed frustration that one EU member state would have the power to block EU action to monitor the UN arms embargo in Libya.

“If tomorrow 26 countries will agree to have a naval mission to monitor the UN arms embargo in Libya, and one, without a navy, is against, what are we going to do?”

In Munich, the Spaniard warned that EU governments need to be willing to intervene in international crises or risk prolonging paralysis in their foreign policy.

With new leadership in Brussels, the EU has launched into a flurry of diplomacy since January, particularly on the Middle East.

While efforts to revive a maritime mission off Libya to uphold a UND arms embargo have run into difficulties and the bloc struggles to influence the situation between Iran and the US, the bloc is also still divided on how to react to Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had previously called to step away from the principle of unanimity in EU foreign policy-making, which Borrell reiterated on Sunday.

“Europe must develop an appetite for power,” Borrell said in Munich, which does not necessarily refer only to military power. We should be able to act … not everyday making comments, expressing concern.”

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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