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Berlin forum cites 'progress' in Libyan unity

Calling it "a new phase for peace in Libya," Germany and the U.N. ended a conference with diplomats expressing confidence in Libya's rebuilding.

Gurgi Mosque minaret framed by Arch of Marcus Aurelius in the Libyan capital Tripoli's ancient walled city
Gurgi Mosque minaret framed by Arch of Marcus Aurelius in the Libyan capital Tripoli's ancient walled city (AN/Ziyad El Baz)

Calling it "a new phase for peace in Libya," Germany's Foreign Ministry and the United Nations wrapped up its second conference on Wednesday for Libya’s transitional government and 16 other countries with a joint statement confident of holding scheduled elections at the end of the year.

The Berlin conference was a follow-up to one in January 2020, when heads of Libya’s two main warring factions and leaders of 11 nations met for U.N.-supported talks where they agreed to set up a cease-fire committee and respect a widely ignored arms embargo.

Envoys came from Algeria, China, Congo, Congo Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Libya, the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, along with those from the African Union, European Union, and League of Arab States.

"We underline the importance of the implementation of confidence-building measures to create an environment conducive for successful national elections, and the importance of voter education and countering hate speech and disinformation," diplomats said in their conference conclusions.

In January, a U.N.-backed forum representing Libya’s warring sides overwhelmingly authorized a new way of choosing a transitional government to hold nationwide elections in late December. The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum voted 51-19 to approve an advisory committee’s proposal for selecting a unified executive authority that came out of a meeting days earlier in Geneva, the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL, said.

Libya’s two main warring factions agreed in November to hold nationwide elections for the presidency and parliament on December 24, 2021, with the aim of creating an effective and unified government. The scheduled date for elections is a public holiday that carries symbolic importance because it is the 70th anniversary of Libya declaring its independence from Britain and France in 1951.

That followed an October cease-fire agreement which called for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries sent by Russia, Turkey and other regional powers within 90 days.

Withdrawal of foreign fighters

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that just two years earlier, a divided Libya was at risk of descending into a spiral of chaos and violence due to armed clashes between competing militias and a constant influx of arms.

But "visible progress has since been made" with U.N. cooperation and the so-called Berlin Process, he said, including the October cease-fire which has held and the formation of a government of national unity.

"These developments are a success, and give the people of Libya cause for hope," Maas said. "At the same time, many challenges still lie ahead of us. For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya. We will continue to work with the Libyan government and the United Nations to achieve these goals."

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush also noted progress in meeting the terms of the cease-fire agreement, saying "hopefully within the coming days mercenaries from both sides are going to be withdrawn."

Oil-rich Libya has been split between rival governments and militias vying for power and oil revenues since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising deposed and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It has long been a launch spot for people trying the dangerous Mediterranean migrant routes to Europe mainly through Italy.