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Why major powers continue to watch as Libya burns

January 30, 2020 at 5:00 pm

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres pose for a photo within the Berlin Conference on Libyan peace in Berlin, Germany on January 19, 2020. [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]

The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to meet yesterday to consult about Libya but the meeting was re-scheduled for today. The meeting was agreed to during 19 January’s Berlin Conference co-hosted by German leader Angela Merkel and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Berlin Conference’s long list of commitments were to be endorsed by the council; a move the UN counted on to help de-escalate the situation on the ground in Libya. The postponement came as yet another indication that the Berlin Conference has failed Libya just as previous gatherings in the French capital Paris and Palermo, Italy, did.

The underlying theme of all those conferences, Berlin included, is a lack of respect for international law and clear blatant hypocrisy by major powers in dealing with Libya. Vying for influence and potential lucrative reconstruction contracts has driven international and regional powers to support different factions in oil rich Libya leading to a proxy war. While France, the UAE, Egypt, Russia and Jordan support Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), Turkey and Qatar are helping the Government of National Accord (GNA). All countries involved preach something other than what they actually practice.

Turkey recently passed a law allowing the deployment of its armed forces into Libya to “defend” Tripoli against the LNA’s attack which was launched last April to unseat the GNA, with little success. Yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan of breaking his promise to refrain from meddling in Libya. Macron said: “Turkish warships accompanied by Syrian mercenaries had been spotted arriving in Libya.” This only confirms local and other media reports spotting Syrian mercenaries in the frontlines south of Tripoli. A fact confirming many press reports about the presence of Syrian fighters in Libya.

Libyan GNA: Haftar forces recruited Syria mercenaries

Using Syrian mercenaries in Libya makes sense. Why should Turkish soldiers face potential death or capture by LNA forces, with all the embarrassment and political price involved, if mercenaries are available? It is only logical for Erdogan to send Syrians to fight his war in Libya. He claims high moral and legal grounds by saying he only responded to request of help made by the GNA, the only UN-recognised government in Libya. While this is true, it is misleading since it ignores the fact that the GNA is illegitimate because it has never has been endorsed by the Libyan parliament. The Libyan Political Accord that produced the GNA requires it to gain a vote of confidence from parliament before operating legally. But the UN, rushing to end the Libyan conflict, adopted resolution 2259 on 23 December 2015 recognising GNA as the only legitimate authority before it gained national legitimacy.

What will happen in the Security Council today can easily be guessed. While the delay might have been to accommodate Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” it is true that the council is again divided over Libya. All five council veto powers were in Berlin and they committed themselves, behind closed doors, to stop their meddling in that country’s affairs. But even before today’s meeting in New York they showed little respect for their commitments. They continue to send more weapons and fighters to Libya threatening the fragile truce around Tripoli which will not last any longer beyond today’s meeting.

The Russian-Turkish brokered lull on 12 January has not yet been formalised. UNSMIL noted that the transfer of weapons and fighters to Libya continues. Tripoli residents reported increased sounds of gun fire and heavy shelling through out this week.

Russia and Turkey publicly agree on a truce but behind the scenes they are not doing enough to press their proxies to stop fighting. The GNA accepted the truce but continued to receive military support, including fighters, from Ankara. It would be silly to expect the LNA to respect the ceasefire while the GNA reinforces its capabilities.

Syria fighters transported to Libya attempt to escape to Italy

Moscow and Ankara are, accidently, benefitting from the Syrian fighters in Libya. Ankara uses them instead of using its own soldiers. Moscow, which is desperately helping the Syrian government regain control of Idlib, is only too happy to see fewer fighters around Idlib. Moscow and Ankara might disagree on many issues over Syria but they appear to be in agreement when it comes of sending Syrian fighters, including suspected terrorists, to Libya. While Moscow still supports its Libyan ally Field Marshal Haftar it does not mind seeing mercenaries fight against him. However it will not allow his defeat.

It is uncomfortable for the UNSMIL’s Ghassan Salame, who worked tirelessly to reach some settlement in Libya, to see his hard work bashed by irresponsible major powers. Undoubtedly Salame has been serious and determined to achieve political peace in the North African country but with international insincerity he is doomed to fail, unfortunately.

This international hypocrisy and lack of commitment to end the misery in Libya overshadows and frustrates any Libyan tribal efforts to help maintain the truce and build on it. A major tribal conference is currently taking place in Bani Walid, southwest of Tripoli, to try to bring some sense to the chaotic senseless political scene. However, the prevailing atmosphere in the meeting is one of frustration and disappointment. Nasser Abu Hamra, spokesman of the Bani Walid tribal council, told me: “There is little to do thanks to hypocrisy of regional and Western powers.”

Foreign powers should give the UN all support to help mediate in Libya. Otherwise Europe and Libya’s neighbours will only have themselves to blame as the country becomes another Syria.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.