Germany Hosts Summit on Libya, Seeks to Halt Proxy Fighting

Police stand guard on the roof of the chancellery ahead of a conference on Libya in Berlin, Germany, Sunday. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Germany is bringing together the key players in Libya’s long-running civil war on Sunday, seeking to curb foreign military interference, solidify a ceasefire and help relaunch a political process to stop the chaos in the North African nation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited leaders from 12 countries as well as the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League to the summit at the chancellery in Berlin. Germany’s months-long diplomatic drive seeks to bolster efforts to stop the fighting in Libya by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame.

Among those expected are Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Also invited are Libya’s two main rival leaders: Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who are both expected to attend.

The chances of the summit producing any real progress are unclear, however. A truce brokered earlier this month by Russia and Turkey marked the first break in fighting in months, but the ceasefire has seen repeated violations.

Speaking at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport before flying to the summit, Erdogan said the world had failed to respond adequately to Hifter’s “reckless attacks” on Sarraj’s U.N.-recognized government.

“Hopes that flourish again with the ceasefire and the Berlin summit should not be sacrificed to the ambitions of the merchants of blood and chaos,” he said.

Libya has sunk further into chaos since the 2011 ouster and killing of Libya’s longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It is now divided into rival administrations, each backed by different nations: the U.N.-recognized government based in Tripoli, headed by Sarraj, and one based in the country’s east, supported by Hifter’s forces.

Hifter’s forces have been on the offensive since April, laying siege to Tripoli in an effort to capture the capital. Hifter’s forces are backed by Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, while the Tripoli government has turned to Turkey for troops and weapons.

On Friday, tribal groups loyal to Hifter seized several large oil export terminals along Libya’s eastern coast as well as southern oil fields in another challenge to the Tripoli government, which collects revenue from oil production. The National Oil Corporation said the move threatens to throttle much of Libya’s oil production.

Germany’s priority is to try to get the outside players that have interests in the conflict on the same page, stem the flow of weapons to Libya and ensure that the ceasefire sticks — creating space for U.N.-led efforts to re-establish a political process in Libya.

“At the Libya conference, we must see above all that the arms embargo is once again complied with — it has been agreed in principle at U.N. level but unfortunately not kept to,” Merkel said.

Germany is also keen to prevent the fighting in Libya from further destabilizing the region, potentially setting off new waves of migrants seeking safety in Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who traveled to Libya to meet Hifter on Thursday, said the general pledged to respect the ceasefire even though he had left Moscow days before without signing a draft on the truce. Sarraj did sign the document.

U.N. envoy Salame has demanded an end to all foreign interference in Libya, saying that a military solution is impossible and governments and mercenaries helping rival forces are hindering a political solution.

Despite the arms embargo against Libya, he said, weapons are being sold and given to Libyans, and “probably thousands” of mercenaries have been sent into the country, creating a “bleak” situation for millions of civilians.

German officials have been careful to keep expectations in check.

“The conference is important, but it is a beginning, the start of a process,” spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said.