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Regional experts say the conference turned a blind eye to the UAE and Russia’s divisive role as the two countries reneged on the promises they made in Berlin Conference I.
A year after a similar conference was held in the German capital, another Berlin conference was held on June 23 and for one more time the event proved out to be a futile exercise as the inherent cause of the Libyan conflict — warlord Khalifa Haftar and his foreign allies, the UAE and Russia — was left unaddressed.
So the stakeholders at the Berlin conference are going around in circles, ignoring the harsh realities of the war that left almost 700 people dead just between 1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020 and rendered more than 120,000 people homeless in and around Tripoli.
“The Berlin conference called in its conclusions for almost the same things it did in 2020 in the first conference, but overwhelming doubts remain as the military institution is still fragmented with Haftar’s Russian Wagner Group, Janjaweed and Chadian mercenaries still in control of central and oil crescent areas,” Abdulkader Assad, the chief editor of The Libya Observer and Libya Alahrar English, told TRT World.
Although the first conference in Berlin in January last year was described by many as promising, Haftar and his supporters continued fortifying their positions and ignored the UN’s calls for ending violence and withdrawing foreign mercenaries, which constitute the core of Haftar’s military strength, from Libya.
In this year’s conference, the same rhetoric and talking points were repeated.
In a statement released by the conference hosts on Wednesday, the stakeholders have apparently agreed to make necessary constitutional and legislative arrangements and clear the country of foreign forces and mercenaries without any further delay.
They have also expressed the need for unifying all the armed groups under one civilian command.
According to Anas el Gomati, who heads the Libyan think tank Sadeq Institute, the worsening security scenario in light of Haftar’s violent manoeuvres will make the smooth conduct of elections an unrealistic prospect.
“There is no reason for Haftar to respect Libya’s future elections as he bombed Libya’s first elected parliament in 2014 so that tells us his contempt for elections and election results,” Gomati told TRT World.
Without a unified army, he added, it will be difficult for the country to go through a fair and transparent democratic process.
Gomati says unless Haftar’s main allies, the UAE and Russia, are pressured to withdraw support from Haftar, which would pave the way for the exit of foreign mercenaries from Libya, hosting a conference after conference is pointless.
It’s because of the UAE and Russia that Haftar has access to advanced weapon systems, drones and other military hardware that he used against the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
“Deniability has been the best friend of Russia and the UAE in Libya. In the Berlin II Conference, the UAE and Russia signed a public statement calling for the withdrawal of mercenaries, which they denied [in the first conference after making the same promise]. So, there is a problem,” Gomati said.
“I’m not optimistic. If you ignore the elephant in the room it won’t go away, the only measure of success is elections. Elections prior to the state-building process being complete are dangerous as Khalifa Haftar is the largest elephant in the room”.
Some Libya observers however expected that the Joe Biden-led US would take the leadership role to bring some peace in the Middle East and North Africa but the way the Berlin conference ended, they feel disappointed that no one even called Russia or the UAE out.
“The US sees him as a stakeholder and no meaningful Western power seeks to weaken the Haftar coalition. The Berlin process doesn’t consider Haftar illegal at all, it was to affirm the election date and to reaffirm the need for foreign troops to leave. Haftar was never considered hostile to US interests. It is very important to take that reality into consideration,” Jalel Harchaoui, a research fellow at Clingendael Institute, a think tank in the Netherlands.
Abdulkader Assad, the Libyan journalist, holds the international community responsible for giving Haftar a free hand and allowing him to commit atrocities against the Libyan people.
“Russia, UAE, France and Egypt were not called out for their atrocious interventions in Libya, especially their military support for warlord Haftar in his war on Tripoli. The Berlin Conference and even the Government of National Unity, especially Foreign Minister Najla Al-Mangoush, who is the supposed top diplomat of the country, failed to call out Haftar as a war criminal who needs to be held accountable for his actions,” Assad said.
“They failed to treat the roots of the crisis. Berlin II Conference repeated the same ambiguous call for supporting elections and ending the presence of foreign forces and mercenaries, but they failed to name the spoilers and criminals who are still enjoying impunity.”