The German capital witnessed the Berlin conference on January 19, 2020, to discuss ways to settle the conflict in Libya. Although there are indications on the desire of the international concerned parties to make the conference a success, in a way that helps achieve progress in the settlement efforts, the ten days following the conference have seen many challenges, which represent a difficult test to see how much serious the external parties are ready to cooperate put an end to this.
Conference Interactions and Outputs
A number of key points regarding the conference's outputs and its ruling vision can be noted, as follows:
1. Working to overcome the narrow procedural boundaries associated with the conferences, in favor of launching what might be considered the “Berlin Process” so that the conference, (which was preceded by five preparatory meetings), will be seen as the launching status of this process. The continuity of this process is represented in holding monthly meetings at the level of top leaders and officials, and bimonthly meetings organized by four technical working groups formed for this purpose. Perhaps this reflects a great deal of realism and could contain the factors of failure of previous conferences such as Palermo and Paris. This was implied in the explicit signal made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the objective of the conference is to come up with "minimal consensuses".
2. Trimming off the roles of the international parties most biased to both parties to the conflict, and giving way to parties that are difficult to be classified y as supportive of one of the parties to the conflict, such as Germany and the United States. It is also intended that the Berlin process will see a greater degree of engagement by the European Union, by re-launching the naval operation "Sofia" with an expansion in its tasks to include, in addition to combating irregular migration, monitoring the arms embargo. A room will be made for a greater role for the African Union. Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, in his report to the Security Council in mid-January, indicated that there is a request from the African Union to appoint a joint envoy between the Union and the United Nations.It is also anticipated that the African Union will hold a forum for Libyan reconciliation during the coming spring, as indicated to this during Berlin Conference.
3. The conference adopted the final form of the three tracks of the settlement that were put forward earlier by the United Nations envoy to Libya Ghassan Salama . They include the Libyan-Libyan dialogue taking place in the political track with the participation of 40 members: 13 members of the House of Representatives, 13 members of the Council of State, and 14 will be named by the UN envoy. The military track will be conducted according to the formula 5 + 5, that is, with the participation of five members of the military representing the two parties to the conflict. The economic track was already launched earlier at the Berlin conference.
4. Creating a balance between the international parties supporting the two parties to the conflict, at the level of the reference of the principles governing the Berlin process. In addition to the reference of the Skhirat Agreement from which Al-Wefaq government derives its legitimacy, the conference’s final communiqué stated the reference of the principles agreed upon in Paris, Palermo and Abu Dhabi, though Al-Wefaq government’s ,in a statement it issued several weeks before the conference, refused to recognize the Abu Dhabi meeting reference. It described what happened in that meeting no more mere consultations.
5. Inserting in the final communiqué, a text about the Cairo talks reference and its outputs regarding the process of building a unified security, police and military forces; thus, the talks, which had been held in the past for the purpose of uniting the military, form the basis for the unification of the security and police services as well.
6. Announcing the commitment of the participating countries to monitor the arms embargo by land, air and sea, providing the necessary satellite images about it, and pledging to report any possible violations of the arms embargo.
7. Limiting the definition of terrorist groups to those classified as terrorists in accordance with United Nations resolutions. This may narrow the margin of maneuver for Haftar and the camp supporting him, specifically in justifying the continuation of military operations and not observing the truce. This, however, would further increase the discord between the militias affiliated with the Al-Wefaq government.
The interactions that took place after the Berlin conference can be divided into two groups as follows:
1. Politically and diplomatically
A) Continued intensive diplomatic moves by Germany, whether through foreign visits and phone calls to Chancellor Merkel or Foreign Minister Haikou Maas, to follow up on international and regional consultations on implementing the conference outputs, and building on them, especially with regard to the part related to maintaining the "fragile" armistice and containing breaches of this armistice by both parties to the conflict. Berlin also worked during the post-conference phase to address Tunisia’s non-participation in the conference, by intensifying diplomatic contact with it.
B) Revitalizing the Libyan neighborhood countries mechanism, in its broader regional framework that goes beyond the tripartite mechanism of Algeria and Tunisia, to include all countries that link Libya with land borders, in addition to Mali. These countries met in the Algerian capital on January 23. And after excluding Morocco from participating in the Berlin conference (although Morocco previously embraced the Skhirat negotiations), it is noted that it does not participate in the conference of neighboring countries, despite the participation of Mali, which does not have direct borders with Libya. This partly reflects an international desire to please Algeria hoping that it will play a more active role in the settlement process. It should be noted that Algerian President Abdel Majid Taboun announced, one day after the Berlin conference, that his country is ready to host negotiations between the Libyan parties, which raises questions about the seriousness of this offer especially as its contrast with the tracks supported by the UN mission.
C) Britain's endeavor to obtain a Security Council resolution to protect the outputs of Berlin conference and put them into practice, particularly with regard to the ceasefire and the commitment of the participating countries to the decision to ban armament. The draft resolution submitted by Britain on January 31, 2020 includes the involvement of both the European Union and the African Union in the formation of the armistice observation committees. This British move comes in line with the statement of the German Foreign Minister, who announced that his country is working to urge the Security Council to impose sanctions on those who violate the ceasefire.
D) Internally, preparations for launching of the political track of the dialogue are facing a degree of stumbling by both sides of the conflict. For the camp of Al-Wefaq government , the Council of State witnessed an internal conflict between its current president, the Muslim Brotherhood, Khaled al-Mashri, and its former president, Misrati Abd al-Rahman Al-Suwaihli. Misrata’s deputies nominated Al-Suwaili as one of the 13 deputies participating in the political track of the settlement, while Brotherhood deputies in the council voted to remove al-Suwaihli from membership in the State Council. This has sparked a split within the council. On the other side, the House of Representatives was late in naming its representatives participating in the negotiations, due to the increasing doubts the Council has about the feasibility of the negotiating process.
2. In Military and Security Terms
A) Although Haftar did not sign a truce agreement in Berlin, he had pledged orally, according to Merkel's statement, to abide by the ceasefire. However, the situation on the ground has seen mutual clashes one day after the conference, with accusations by both sides of not abiding by the armistice. Nevertheless, there are two main stations that represent the most important military developments during the post-Berlin period:
-The escalation taking place in the area of eastern Misrata, where the forces of Haftar, who controlled Sirte before the Berlin conference, are seeking to advance towards Misrata, with difficulties in penetrating this front.
- The Haftar forces ’decision to impose an air embargo on Maitika airport, and the decision of the Al-Wefaq government in return to challenge this ban and open Maitika airport to navigation traffic. This would put the General Command of the army in front of a clear challenge regarding its seriousness in preventing air traffic over the capital, with its repercussions in the event that Haftar's forces are involved in the bombing of any civilian aircraft.
B) The continued closure of the oil facilities that fall within the control of the Haftar forces, with no official authorities involved in the implementation of the closure , which was supported by the camp in support of Haftar to preserve its tribal popular character. The closure has resulted in a sharp decline in oil production, by more than 75%, . According to Mustafa Sunallah, Head of the National Oil Corporation, this would make the export process prone to reach its lowest level since 2011,. The closure comes in protest of the oil revenues going to the militias supported by the Saraj government, and the financing of theTurkish military support for Al-Wefaq government. In this context, Sunallah made his remarkable statement that the Oil Corporation was not consulted in the maritime agreement signed by the Saraj government with Ankara, and that it knew nothing about it.
C) Despite the Turkish President Erdogan's statement immediately after the Berlin conference that Turkish support for the Al-Wefaq government is limited to sending advisers to carry out training missions only, Turkey continues to transfer fighters and military equipment to Libya. The days that followed this statement witnessed a verbal escalation by Erdogan against Haftar. International officials, such as the Russian Foreign Minister and the French President, accused Erdogan of continuing to supply fighters and armed support, contrary to what was agreed upon in Berlin. Turkey has relied on commercial cargo ships and warships to transport military equipment to Tripoli, especially in light of the air superiority of Haftar's forces.
The situation in Libyan seems to be liable to face further military escalation on the ground in the near term. And the continuation of direct Turkish intervention has undoubtedly complicated it, but this does not mean that the horizon of a political solution to the Libyan crisis is blocked, especially after the European powers, in particular Germany and Britain, had put their weight behind this path. Besides, the efforts of the neighboring countries of Libya are also continuing in an attempt to address the situation in Libya and prevent its total collapse. This would increase pressure on the conflicting parties to build their approach to reach a solution based on the outputs of the Berlin Conference, in order to reduce escalation between them.
Harith Hasan | 16 Feb 2020
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