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Berlin summit should ensure Libya ceasefire – Turkish President Erdogan

“It should be ensured that a ceasefire and return to political process are agreed at the Berlin summit in order for Libya to attain peace and calm,” Turkish President Erdogan said in Berlin during the televised part of the meeting with Putin.

World leaders gather in Berlin on January 19, 2020 to make a fresh push for peace in Libya.
World leaders gather in Berlin on January 19, 2020 to make a fresh push for peace in Libya. (AFP)

Ahead of Libya conference in Berlin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Berlin conference should ensure a ceasefire and political dialogue for Libyan peace.

“It should be ensured that a ceasefire and return to political process are agreed at the Berlin summit in order for Libya to attain peace and calm,” Erdogan said in Berlin during the televised part of the meeting with Putin.

Erdogan also said: “Haftar’s aggressive attitudes must end to implement the phase of political process and solution [in Libya].”

“Joint efforts on Libya provided relative calm in the field but our initiatives will reap fruits with Berlin conference,” he said, hopeful of summit.

Putin, for his part, said Russia and Turkey set an example in finding a common ground.

He praised the efforts of the two countries on establishment of the cease-fire in Libya, saying Russia and Turkey took a good step, and called the warring sides to the truce.

First gathering since 2018 

Leaders of both warring factions, warlord Khalifa Haftar, and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government, Fayez al Sarraj, are also expected at the first such gathering since 2018.

But hours ahead of the meeting, Haftar’s militia upped the ante by blocking oil exports at the war-ravaged country’s key ports, crippling the main source of income in a protest against Turkey’s decision to send troops to shore up Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

The move underlined the devastating impact of what is described by the UN as foreign interference, which the UN’s special envoy Ghassan Salame said had to stop.

“All foreign interference can provide some aspirin effect in the short term, but Libya needs all foreign interference to stop.

That’s one of the objectives of this conference,” he told AFP on the eve of the meeting.

The UN hopes all sides will sign up to a plan to refrain from interference, and commit to a truce that leads to a lasting end to hostilities, according to a draft of a final communique seen by AFP.
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That document also urges all parties to re-commit to a much-violated UN arms embargo and raises the prospect of political, inter-Libyan talks in Geneva at the end of the month.

If all goes to plan, the Berlin participants will hold an evening press conference.

‘Second Syria’

Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Most recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s ruthless militia.

Clashes killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile ceasefire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on January 12.

Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN , powerful players have broken away to stand behind warlord Haftar, turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war in which international powers jostle to secure their own interests.

Alarms grew internationally as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered troops to Libya early January to bolster Sarraj.

Underlining the stakes involved, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “Europe and those players who are influential” in the region have all been called to Berlin, because “we have to make sure Libya doesn’t become a second Syria.”

“The conference can be the first step to peace for Libya,” Maas told the Bild newspaper.

Sarraj meanwhile issued a call for international “protection troops” if Haftar were to keep up his offensive.

“Such a protection force must operate under the auspices of the UN. Experts will have to advise who should participate, such as the EU or the African Union or the Arab League”, he told Die Welt newspaper on Sunday.

He also criticised the EU, saying it had not been proactive enough on Libya.

“Unfortunately the role of the EU so far has been very modest… even though some EU countries have a special relationship with Libya, we are neighbours and have many interests in common,” he said.

Lip service?

On the eve of the Berlin talks, Erdogan warned Europe to stand united behind Sarraj’s government, as Tripoli’s fall could leave “fertile ground” for terrorist groups “to get back on their feet”.

Erdogan also played up Europe’s fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis. In a commentary for Politico news website, he warned that further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for the continent.

Accusing France in particular of siding with Haftar, Erdogan said leaving Libya to the warlord would be a “mistake of historic proportions”.

France has denied it was backing Haftar.

For Turkey, a fall of Sarraj’s GNA could jeopardise a maritime boundary agreement the parties signed.

It gives Ankara extensive rights over the eastern Mediterranean where the recent discovery of undersea gas reserves has triggered a scramble by littoral states.

But Haftar is backed by Turkey’s fiercest regional rivals, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Erdogan has also accused Russia of sending in mercenaries to help Haftar, as Moscow seeks to extend its influence in the region.

Meanwhile, the European Union is watching with growing alarm at the escalating strife on its doorstep as it uses Libya as a gatekeeper deterring migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.

The International Crisis Group’s Libya expert Claudia Gazzini said the Berlin conference “could be a modest step forward” on the path to peace.

“Yet the risk remains that some participants will merely pay lip service to the diplomatic initiative, even as they continue to fuel a war from which they benefit.”

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