Libya Tribune

The north African country’s population have suffered years of turmoil, fuelled by the meddling of outside players. The civil war may yet escalate.

Let’s all be good. This was, in essence, the conclusion of the conference in Berlin this month which aimed to at least begin the work of ending a war which has cost thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Libya. Participants agreed that foreign meddling should cease and that everyone should abide by the UN arms embargo.

Despite the desperate need for peace, there was good reason to be cynical. The host, Angela Merkel, argued publicly with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, over what had actually been agreed.

Fighting soon raged again.

The UN refugee agency announced on Thursday that it is suspending all operations at a facility in Tripoli and moving refugees from the site, fearing for their safety and that of its staff and partners amid worsening conflict. The UN says that several participants in the Berlin meeting have since shipped both arms and mercenaries to Libya, blatantly violating the embargo.

The hypocrisy was never more evident than when Emmanuel Macron lambasted Mr Erdoğan for failing to keep his promise to end interference, complaining about the dispatch of Turkish warships and Syrian mercenaries. Ankara supports the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj – which has granted Turkey the right to search for gas off Libya.

Strangely, the French president failed to mention the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, enthusiastic buyers of French arms and chief backers of the warlord Khalifa Haftar. His Libyan National Army advanced on Tripoli last spring while the UN secretary general was in the country for talks intended to pave the way to elections.

Russia has sent in mercenaries to aid the general, while also attempting to maintain relations with the GNA. But France has also given him, at the very minimum, political backing.

Donald Trump appeared to give him the green light for his April offensive with a phone call, and the US joined Russia to block a UK-backed resolution calling for him to end it, even if Washington has since wavered.

A population which endured decades of Gadaffi’s dictatorship has suffered turmoil since his ousting in 2011 by rebels with Nato support. But the folly and danger of believing that a strongman will bring “stability” has been documented too many times. To think that General Haftar is the answer is not only shameful but bizarre.

Despite his authoritarianism, he is hardly strong: he is a 76-year-old man who has faced serious health issues, has failed repeatedly to make the advances he expected even with extensive foreign support, and few believe that his forces will remain united after him. Yet it has been made amply clear to him that he can continue to do as he wishes.

Meanwhile the proxy war grows ever more complex and febrile. The influx of Turkish support is in part a response to Russian actions. The UAE seems to be stepping up its role because it fears being cut out by a deal between Russia and Turkey.

Europe has every reason to seek stability in Libya – especially so given the way that al-Qaida and Islamic State have benefited from chaos there, and the desperation to halt refugee flows, whatever the human cost. While it should increase pressure on France to rein in General Haftar and his backers, the toothless outcome of Berlin showed that the west has no intention of getting tough.

Outside players are escalating their support for the warring parties, who have seized the opportunity to improve their military positions. The conflict will continue to intensify while foreign powers see only commercial and strategic rewards for their interference. The people of Libya will keep paying the price.

_______________