Experts voice scepticism over progress at Libya conference

Experts voice scepticism over progress at international Libya conference
3 min read
26 June, 2021
Experts have criticised both the apparent unwillingness to address Turkey's military presence in Libya as a separate issue as well as the audacity of other countries to demand Turkish troops leave, despite supporting their own mercenaries in Libya.
The second Berlin conference centred on elections scheduled for later this year and the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya [AFP via Getty]

The second international conference on Libya which concluded on Wednesday failed to produce the tangible results needed to establish peace in the North African country, expert have said.

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The conference centred on elections scheduled for later this year and the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from Libya. The final declaration reaffirmed that election must be held by the scheduled date – Dec 24 - and urged the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries "without delay".

Nebahat Taniverdi, a guest researcher at Berlin-based Institute for International and Security Affairs, decried the lack of a binding resolution emerging at the conference.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, she suggested this risked turning the elections into an opportunity for Libya's warring sides to establish hegemony over the country's fragile politics, raising the possibility of renewed conflict.

She also urged countries who do not formally acknowledge their presence in the Libya to play an active role in withdrawing fighters they have sponsored.

This includes the UAE, who have sent mercenaries from countries such as Sudan and Chad, as well as Russia, who has sent mercenaries from Wagner - a private military contractor. They joined the fight alongside forces loyal to military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Moscow and Abu Dhabi.

As for Turkey, its objection to withdrawing forces were because they - according to Ankara's view - were in the country based on a deal struck with the UN-backed Libyan government at the time, Taniverdi explained.

Turkey's intervention is believed to have helped the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) to turn the tide of conflict in Libya, repelling Haftar's campaign to take seize the capital.

That led to a ceasefire between the rival governments in October, with the security situation in Libya improving gradually since then. The two administrations folded with the formation of the country’s current Government of National Unity (GNU) through a UN-backed process in March.

Taniverdi said that since Turkey's objection to end its military presence and activities was, in its view, based on "legitimacy and legal responsibility", it was unfortunate that the issue was "not evaluated under a separate heading in the final declaration in the Berlin conference".

Taking a more critical line was Ahmed Sewelhi, a Libyan political analyst and activist. He said the conference failed address an issue more pressing than the election: that of accountability.

"Nobody has actually done anything about” holding perpetrators of suspected war crimes to account, he said. Haftar and his forces have been accused of multiple war crimes throughout Libya's conflict.

"How can we believe that those who do nothing about accountability want to do something for elections?"

His comments mirrored those of Lawyer for Justice in Libya, who prior to the conference urged all those "to prioritise human rights, accountability and the rule of law".

The NGO said in a press release that while there have been positive developments after last year's gathering in the German capital, it is worried these might not last.

"Gross human rights violations and serious international crimes such as torture, enforced disappearances… and [the] trafficking and smuggling of migrants... continue to be committed throughout the country," it added.

Quoted by Anadolu, Sewelhi pointed to the contradiction of autocratic regimes calling for and guiding Libya's elections, such as Egypt.

He also decried it as "shameful" that Turkey was being asked to end its military presence by countries that refused to recognise their own presence in the country, describing how Russia's Wagner mercenaries occupied large territories and cities in Libya, including oil facilities and ports surrounding Sirte.

"This is a shame and that's why I don't take Berlin seriously at all. If this conference can't name who the forces in Libya are, how can they ask them to leave?" he said.

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