By Kai Küstner, ARD Studio Berlin

While the world’s attention is focused on the corona virus, the civil war in Libya is raging more brutally than ever before – despite German and European efforts.

The civil war parties in Libya actually have a common enemy – an invisible enemy who cannot be defeated by force of arms: the corona virus. But no one has yet come up with the idea of keeping their weapons silent. On the contrary.

Rather, it seems as if the conflicting parties are shamelessly taking advantage of the fact that the world is busy elsewhere: Ex-General Khalifa Haftar is trying – under the radar of international attention – to continue violently attacking the capital, Tripoli.

But with Turkish help, his enemy, the internationally recognized head of government Sarradsch, recently managed to expand his sphere of influence again.

EU foreign ministers send warning letter

“We urge you to refrain from any further military activity across the country,” says a warning letter that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently sent to Libya together with his French and Italian counterparts as well as Josep Borrell, EU Foreign Minister .

It was delivered – with the same wording – to both Warlord Haftar and Prime Minister Sarradsch.

In the two confidential letters available to the ARD capital studio, the ministers urged the addressees to “adhere to a humanitarian ceasefire and agree to a permanent ceasefire for the entire period of the pandemic and beyond”. The letter dates from April 3. The call went unheeded.

What is left of the Berlin conference?

Instead of concentrating on the common enemy “Corona”, the fighting against one another continues unabated in this bloody civil war. Which also has to do with the fact that the supply of weapons does not stop. 

At the Libya conference in Berlin in mid-January, everyone involved had actually agreed to stay out of the conflict in the future.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced it the evening after the top-class conference in Berlin. But today there can be no question of reluctance.

Great Powers support both sides

UN Secretary-General Guterres was not afraid to openly name those who violated the arms embargo: the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and Turkey. 

While Ankara supports the government of Sarradsch and is currently – with the help of frigates off the Libyan coast – ensuring that it was able to recapture strategically important places, Russia, Egypt and the Emirates are still on the side of Sarradsch’s opponent Haftar. Its militias continue to fight.

The arms embargo “is not being implemented as we would like it to be,” it said somewhat clearly from the Federal Foreign Office, spokeswoman Maria Adebahr.

Corona virus makes crisis diplomacy even more difficult

The Chancellery and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are doing their best to somehow save the “Berlin process”, which threatens to fail, and to maintain the pressure. 

But in times when traveling in crisis regions has become impossible and instead diplomacy has to take place via video and telephone conference, this is not so easy. And the more time passes, the more the paper that was agreed upon at the conference in Berlin fades.

With a new naval mission in the Mediterranean, called IRINI, the EU wants to help enforce the arms embargo. The Federal Cabinet will deal with the new EU mission on Wednesday. 

But whether IRINI can ensure that supplies to the parties to the conflict run dry is questionable: for the time being, the Europeans will be able to monitor the sea routes, but not yet the maritime area. However, since a large part of the weapons reach Libya by air, there is still a gap.

If there was ever any hope that the spread of the corona virus could lead conflicting parties to silence their weapons and join forces – nothing is felt in the case of Libya.


Kai Küstner, ARD Studio Berlin






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