By Patrick Wintour
Germany is planning to hold a UN-backed international conference on the future of Libya in an attempt to force the many regional actors to stop funding and arming the country’s warring sides.
The UN has admitted its strengthened arms embargo on the country has been totally ignored by a range of countries, including Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
The UN special envoy, Ghassan Salamé, has come to the view that unless an international spotlight is thrown on the role of the many regional actors, the war will continue indefinably, possibly turning the country into a new Syria.
Speaking in Berlin on Thursday, Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, hinted at the problems ahead in terms of the aims and guest list for the conference, saying there would be a lot of work to organise such a meeting.
Some countries are unlikely to attend if they believe they are going to be put in the dock for backing one side or another. Maas added: “Germany wants to launch a consultation process with all relevant actors.
There is still a lot of work before we can have such a conference. But we have started working on a process.”
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Two previous conferences in the last year, one in Palermo and another in Paris, failed to bring about any breakthrough before Khalifa Haftar, the military commander in the east of Libya, tried to capture the capital, Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised government.
Salamé has been touting the idea of a conference for more than two months and in an address to the UN security council called for a three-stage process, including local ceasefires, a national conference and then a national meeting inside Libya.
Maas stressed his work was in support of Salamé, who has been touring European and Middle East capitals in support of his conference plan.
Salamé told the security council: “It remains abundantly clear that without the commitment of key external actors engaged in Libya, the conflict will continue.”
Underlining the scale of the breach of the UN’s authority, he told the UN: “The violence in Libya is exacerbated by the supply of additional arms, ammunition and war materiel into the country.
Violations of the arms embargo have been both routine and often blatant by both of the main parties to the conflict and their respective sponsor member states.”
He revealed the UN panel of experts was investigating over 40 cases of arms embargo breaches of varying magnitude, despite non-cooperation by most of the perpetrator member states. “It is sadly true to say that the arms embargo has been ineffective since 4 April 2019,” he said.
He added: “There have been no interdictions or searches conducted at sea, despite such activities being authorised by UN resolutions The reported recent arrival of thousands of mercenaries into the country risks the further extension and escalation of the conflict.”
He said the purpose of the conference was to “send a strong message on the need for respect of the arms embargo, to commit to non-interference in Libyan affairs and to address the main causes of conflict as formulated by the Libyans themselves and to emphasise its clear and active support for whatever political formula the Libyans agree to.”
With the French president, Emmanuel Macron, focused on brokering peace in Iran, the Italians busy bedding down a new coalition government and Britain preoccupied by Brexit, Germany became the natural European hosts for the conference, and is seen as largely neutral in the conflict between Tripoli and Haftar.
Macron, the UAE, and Egypt are normally cited as the strongest external backers of Haftar.
The clashes between the two sides have left more than 1,000 people dead and about 5,500 wounded, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Patrick Wintour – Diplomatic editor of the Guardian.