Germany brought together the key players in Libya’s long-running civil war on Sunday, seeking to curb foreign military interference, solidify a cease-fire and help relaunch a political process to stop the chaos in the North African nation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed 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 by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, to stop the fighting in Libya.
Among those attending were 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.
Libya’s two main rival leaders, Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and Gen. Khalifa Haftar, also came to Berlin. Merkel and her foreign minister met both men at the chancellery ahead of the summit.
The chances of the summit producing any real progress were unclear, however. A truce brokered earlier this month by Russia and Turkey marked the first break in fighting in months, but the cease-fire has seen repeated violations.
Macron on Sunday hit out against foreign troop deployments in Libya, saying such intervention only serves to fuel the conflict and create new risks for everyone.
Voicing his “acute concerns over the arrival of Syrian and foreign fighters in the city of Tripoli,” Macron told the Berlin summit that “that must end.”
Ankara has been accused of sending hundreds of Syrian fighters into Tripoli to back up Sarraj’s UN-recognized government.
Differences were in full view ahead of the meeting. Speaking Sunday in Istanbul, Erdogan said the world had failed to respond adequately to Haftar’s “reckless attacks” on Sarraj’s UN-recognized government.
“Hopes that flourish again with the cease-fire and the Berlin summit should not be sacrificed to the ambitions of the merchants of blood and chaos,” he said.
Erdogan met Putin in Berlin just before the summit. The Russian leader said “we will sincerely strive for the conflict to be resolved.”
Libya has sunk further into chaos since the 2011 ousting and killing of its longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. It is now divided into rival administrations, each backed by different nations: the UN-recognized government based in Tripoli, headed by Sarraj, and one based in the country’s east, supported by Haftar’s forces.
Haftar’s forces have been on the offensive since April, laying siege to Tripoli in an effort to capture the capital. Haftar’s forces are backed by Egypt, Russia and the UAE, while the Tripoli government has turned to Turkey for troops and weapons.
On Friday, tribal groups loyal to Haftar 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 cease-fire sticks — creating space for UN-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 UN level but unfortunately not kept to,” Merkel said.
Germany is also keen to keep 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 met Haftar in Libya on Thursday, said the general pledged to respect the cease-fire even though he had left Moscow days before without signing a draft on the truce. Sarraj did sign the document.
UN 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,” government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said.
Pope Francis offered his encouragement from the Vatican on Sunday.
“I strongly hope that this summit, so important, is the start of a path toward the cessation of violence and a negotiated solution that leads to peace and much desired stability,” Francis said in St. Peter’s Square.