The civil war in Libya has entangled more than a dozen other countries. On Sunday, representatives of many of those nations and several multinational governing bodies like the United Nations met in Berlin to try to work out a peace deal between the two warring sides.
Factions have fought to control Libya since the 2011 ouster of dictator Muammar Qaddafi created a political vacuum. Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army govern the east, while the UN-backed Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj controls the west from the capital city of Tripoli. Clashes between the two sides intensified in April 2019 after forces loyal to Haftar launched an offensive against Tripoli.
Egypt, France, Jordan, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates back Haftar, while al-Sarraj receives support from Qatar and Turkey. The unrest has drawn in militias and troops from beyond Libya’s borders. At least 3,000 Sudanese mercenaries are fighting with Haftar’s forces. Some 2,000 Syrian fighters have traveled from Turkey to back Sarraj, including 1,350 men who arrived in Turkey on Jan. 5, The Guardian reported. Other nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, have provided Haftar with advanced weapon systems.
Russia and Turkey brokered a truce between the leaders this month, but Haftar refused to sign the final cease-fire deal, and both sides reported several violations. The offensive has killed more than 280 civilians and displaced more than 146,000 others since April. The United Nations Mission in Libya has recorded more than 1,000 drone strikes in the past nine months, most of them by Libyan National Army forces.
After four hours of talks in Berlin over the weekend, a group of world powers that included Russia, Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, and others agreed on paper to respect a long-disregarded arms embargo, to end military backing of the rival sides, and to nudge them toward a full cease-fire. They are also considering deploying a multinational force to the country. The warring factions agreed to nominate five members to a UN cease-fire monitoring committee, but they are still unwilling to negotiate directly.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres adopted a cautious tone while saying the conference successfully dampened a regional escalation of the conflict. “That risk was averted in Berlin—provided, of course, that it is possible to maintain the truce and then to move into a cease-fire,” he said.
Libya is a central hub for illegal migrants hoping to leave North Africa and cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, and the political conditions have allowed smugglers and human traffickers to thrive. The latest fighting has also endangered many migrants still stranded in the country.
In the first two weeks of this year, the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted at least 953 refugees and migrants and sent them back to detention centers, the UN said. An airstrike on July 3, 2019, on the Tajoura detention center in the eastern suburbs of Tripoli killed 53 people and injured 130 others, reported Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).
Claudia Gazzini, a Libyan analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the Berlin conference symbolizes a credible step, but “risk remains that some participants will merely pay lip service to the diplomatic initiative, even as they continue to fuel a war from which they benefit.”