The international peace summit held in Berlin on Sunday to find a solution for the ongoing conflict between the UN-backed interim Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al-Sarraj and the renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France, Italy and other countries, neglected the interests of the Libyans, while serving those of such foreign states and their proxies.
Haftar has strong links with America’s CIA, and failed in 2014 to oust the elected Libyan parliament, the General National Congress (GNC). On 25 June of that year, a new parliament was elected with a turnout of only 18 per cent compared to 60 per cent for the GNC. For several reasons, the Libyan Supreme Constitutional Court ruled on 6 November 2014 that the new elections were unconstitutional and consequently the new parliament should be dissolved.
Later in the same year, the GNC was restored, but Haftar and his allies in the new parliament rejected these measures and have been convening their own “parliament” in Tobruk ever since. The UN, meanwhile, helped with the formation of an interim government led by Al-Sarraj and recognised it. At the end of 2015, the GNC in Tripoli and House of Representatives in Tobruk signed a political deal — the Skhirat Agreement. However, on 17 December 2017, Haftar declared the agreement void.
Several attempts to bring the two sides together have failed. Since April 2019, Haftar’s forces have been trying to capture Tripoli. No state except Turkey has actually tried to stop Haftar’s strikes or help the UN-recognised government to survive. The UN only announced an embargo on supplying arms to either side of the conflict.
Meanwhile, several regional and international powers have been supporting and hosting Haftar, and even violating the UN arms embargo by sending troops and military equipment to him. More than 2,000 people have been killed with 120,000 others displaced since the start of start of the campaign against Tripoli. Several cities, where most of the oil plants are located, have been captured by Haftar forces in the process.
With this military conflict and political stalemate, the country is plagued with chaos, insecurity and instability. The Libyan people will be grateful to anyone who helps them to stabilise their country, make their life normal and allow democracy to thrive. It seems that they are not ready to return to a dictatorship like that of Muammar Gaddafi or any of his generals, such as Khalifa Haftar.
The Berlin conference was announced in the wake of the failure of a meeting in Moscow last week where Haftar refused to sign a ceasefire deal with the GNA. Germany announced that it would get the leaders of the countries involved in the Libyan issue to respect the UN arms embargo and agree on a ceasefire. However, the parties attended the conference, where they and the UN seemed uninterested in solving the conflict, stabilising the country or helping the Libyan people; they did not come up with anything tangible to end the crisis. Their remarks proved that oil production was the main priority, not helping the Libyans.
According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leaders who participated in the summit agreed not to provide any military support for the warring sides in Libya. Will this hold up, given that the foreign powers which have been helping Haftar did not respect the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council, which represents almost 200 countries, not just the few which went to Berlin?
Merkel recognised that an agreement could not be reached because of the obstacles put in the way by Haftar, but pointed out clearly at the end of the summit that her country wants a fair distribution of oil revenues between Tripoli and Tobruk. Why a “fair” distribution of revenues? Why didn’t the summit insist that oil revenues must be given only to the recognised government and Haftar’s attacks on the capital must be stopped and the general himself apprehended? Obviously this was because the veteran German politician did not want to complicate matters for her country’s largest crude oil and natural gas producer, Wintershall Holding GmbH, which is the oldest established oil company in Libya. Germany believes that international intervention will perpetuate the conflict in Libya, and that if there is a “fair” distribution of oil revenues between the two rival institutions in the country this would not only sustain oil production, but also guarantee a more stable environment for Wintershall.
The final statement of the summit only reiterated the importance of turning the ongoing truce — being violated by Haftar every day — into a permanent ceasefire. No blame was attached to those who have been violating the UN arms embargo or those who support illegal attacks against Tripoli by Haftar’s forces. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recognised that the escalation in Libya has reached a dangerous point and that nothing was done in Berlin apart from a verbal commitment to end the escalation.
It is hard not to conclude that the conference was useless in terms of security, stability and an intention to end the conflict. “The Libyan sides have made a small step forward since their meeting in Moscow [held last week],” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “It is clear that it is not yet possible to establish a stable serious dialogue between them [the UN-backed government and Haftar]. The differences in approaches are too great.”
According to Bloomberg, “Access to Libyan oil is a major incentive for Putin.” Russia has so far sent 2,500 mercenaries to fight alongside troops loyal to Haftar.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was reported as saying that he hoped Libya’s oil facilities, blocked by pro-Haftar factions, will reopen as a result of the summit. “America has a counterterrorism interest there [in Libya],” a statement issued by the US State Department quoted Pompeo as saying. “There are important energy opportunities there in Libya… One of the things I did mention is that we hope that the closure that had taken place — the closure of some of the crude oil getting out — we hope that will be opened up as a result of this conversation as well.”
There are also UN concerns about oil. “I am very worried,” explained Guterres, “by the fact that several ports, several harbours from where oil is exported, have been blocked and that one very important oil field is also stopping after today.” Obviously, he added, we believe that part of a more comprehensive solution would have to be an effective reform of the National Oil Corporation, establishing the way things are done, and we hope that it will be possible to establish normality but of course it will depend on all the other tracks.”
The final statement of the conference read: “We call on all parties concerned to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire. We call for the termination of all military movements by, or in direct support of, the conflict parties, in and over the entire territory of Libya, starting from the beginning of the ceasefire process.”
There is enough evidence that the summit was not intended to help the Libyans or their legal government, but was meant to find a way to solve the crisis facing the interests of the world powers which have certain allies in the region involved in proxy wars in Libya. Haftar, who walked out of the internationally-backed Skhirat Agreement, sent a message to the Berlin summit that the ceasefire would not be respected, simply by continuing his attacks on Tripoli.
If the international leaders were really interested in ending the chaos and conflict in Libya, they could have decided to form a group to ensure the implementation of the “unhonoured” ceasefire or call for all countries to respect the UN arms embargo. At the very least, they should have formed a task force to go to Libya immediately and bring an end to the violations, stabilise the country and prepare it for the democratic process, as happened when NATO intervened against Gaddafi in 2011.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.