Key questions ahead of Libya peace conference in Berlin

Key questions ahead of Libya peace conference in Berlin
Key questions ahead of Libya peace conference in Berlin

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shakes hands with Libya’s commander Khalifa Haftar, in Benghazi, Libya, January 16, 2020. — German Foreign Ministry. Auswaertiges Amt/Xander Heinl/photothek.de/handout pic via Reuters

TRIPOLI, Jan 19 — Key players meet today in Berlin to build on a fragile ceasefire for Libya and try to tackle foreign interference in a country mired in chaos since its 2011 Nato-backed uprising.

Here are key elements behind the insecurity and political anarchy in the oil-rich North African state and the motivations of key protagonists.

Why are Libyan factions at war?

Militias and armed groups have battled for territory and control of Libya’s oil resources ever since the revolt that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

But two main rival authorities are locked in the contest for power.

A Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez al-Sarraj and formed in 2016 after a UN-sponsored agreement, is opposed by an eastern administration championed by military strongman Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The latter takes his legitimacy from a parliament elected in 2014 that took refuge in eastern Libya after a western militia coalition seized control of the capital.

Several countries, including neighbouring Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France, hail Haftar for his anti-Islamist military campaign, with some providing him with military and logistical backing.

After expelling Islamists from the eastern city of Benghazi, Haftar turned his sights in January 2019 on southern Libya’s desert regions, capturing them rapidly after rallying local tribes.

And last April, his forces launched an offensive to expel the GNA from Tripoli.

Why attack Tripoli?

Even before the Tripoli campaign, Haftar’s power had expanded to cover most of Libya’s territory, including its “oil crescent” — a string of export hubs along the north-eastern coast. Oil revenues go to the UN-recognised GNA and are then distributed across the country.

According to a Western diplomatic source, Haftar’s aim had been to clinch a quick victory and present the international community with a fait accompli.

But despite initial advances on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, the battle for the capital has been in stalemate for several months now.

Haftar apparently failed to take into account the mobilisation of powerful western militias which brand him a would-be new dictator of Libya.

What countries are involved?

Apart from Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, France and Russia have, at the least, provided diplomatic support to Haftar, even if Moscow denies having funded Russian mercenaries on the ground.

The pro-GNA camp accuses Paris of siding militarily with the general after French missiles were found on a base seized from his fighters.

Washington appeared to show its hand when US President Donald praised Haftar in a telephone call after the launch of his Tripoli campaign.

But the US has since remained ambiguous despite voicing opposition to the enhanced role of Russia, which with Turkey has co-sponsored the latest ceasefire. The truce has held since it went into effect on January 12.

Ankara has despatched a limited number of troops to Libya under a military accord with the GNA, which is also supported by Qatar.

Amnesty has said it found “a systematic disregard for international law, fuelled by the continued supply of weapons to both sides in violation of a UN arms embargo” in force since 2011.

“The international community must uphold the UN arms embargo, which Turkey, the UAE, Jordan and other countries have flagrantly violated,” Amnesty researcher Brian Castner said in October.

What does Turkey want?

Analysts say the Turkish involvement is motivated by geopolitics and ideology. It aims to counter the influence of regional rivals Cairo and Abu Dhabi which oppose Ankara’s Islamist sympathies.

Turkey also has economic interests, coupling with the GNA in a maritime accord to stake its claim to hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean in opposition to rivals Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus.

What’s Russia doing in Libya?

Russia regards Libya as a “commercial... but also geostrategic and symbolic” opportunity, according to Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.

He said Russia’s presence in Libya allowed Moscow to counter Nato and EU influence in North Africa and show it could succeed where the West — with the 2011 uprising that Moscow warned would result in chaos — had failed.

Where do the Europeans stand?

The Europeans fear that the increased internationalisation of the conflict could turn Libya into a “second Syria”.

They want to reduce migratory pressure emanating from the Libyan coast and also jihadist threats. — AFP

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