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World leaders meet in Berlin to discuss Libya crisis

BERLIN, Germany: World powers are meeting in Berlin to seek lasting peace in Libya by ensuring peace and stability in the volatile and conflict-hit country ahead of general elections on December 24.

Representatives of Libya’s interim government will join US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as the foreign ministers of France and Egypt at the United Nations-sponsored talks.

The efforts to end a decade-long spiral of violence in Libya would be the second round in Berlin, after the first attended by the presidents of Turkey, Russia and France in January 2020.

The UN estimates 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries are still in Libya – a presence seen as a threat to the UN-recognised transition leading to the elections.

Libya has been racked with chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The country was subsequently split between the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in the capital, Tripoli, and a rival administration based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

In April 2019, renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his eastern-based forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli.

His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its support of the Tripoli government with advanced military hardware, troops and thousands of mercenaries.

In October, after Turkey-backed forces of the GNA routed those of Haftar, the two camps agreed to a ceasefire in Geneva.

Western leaders have repeatedly called on the foreign fighters to depart. But Russian mercenaries supporting Haftar’s side in the east are still in place.

Turkey has troops in Tripoli, which it argues were sent under a bilateral agreement with the government, implying that they are not affected by a request for foreign troops to leave.

Experts on Libya say the talks could bring tangible help in the upcoming elections.

Claudia Gazzini, of the think-tank, Crisis Group, warned the road to long-term peace in Libya was still long, but the conference could bring new dynamism into the process.

“The Libyan parliament and the executive were not able to drive the process forward alone,” Gazzini said. “This was why tensions between rival groups had increased again in recent times.”

Harchaoui also warned the electoral process could be damaging to the current peace.

“This single focus on really making the elections happen this year … has a reckless aspect to it because … elections are not an end to itself. If they are happening in the wrong moment they could deepen polarisation, they could offer an environment that is propitious to another form of war,” he said.

“Any realist must acknowledge that – and that’s a sad thing to acknowledge – that this weird peace that Libya has enjoyed over the last 12 months owes to the presence of foreign mercenaries on both sides. That’s what it comes down to, and of course, it’s not politically correct to say.”