Diplomats hail 'united' Libyan government after talks to build on ceasefire

Officials emphasise importance of December elections in removing foreign fighters

Libya's interim Prime Minster Abdul Hamid Dbeibah met Britain's Boris Johnson and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday as he sought to entrench agreement on political dialogue and elections before the end of the year.

"The Secretary and interim Prime Minister also emphasised the importance of full implementation of the October 23, 2020 ceasefire agreement, including the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya," a State Department spokesman said. "Secretary Blinken reiterated the US commitment to increasing diplomatic support for progress in Libya."

Jan Kubis, the special envoy of the UN Secretary General for Libya, praised the collective effort made in Berlin to reach a consensus.

"This conference represents an important opportunity to renew the international community's commitment to Libya's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Mr Kubis said.

“Significant progress has been made since the holding of the first Berlin Conference in January 2020, resulting in ending the armed conflict in Libya; signing a ceasefire agreement and the establishment of a unified interim executive authority. However, more needs to be done to consolidate this progress and ensure sustainable stability and peace in Libya."

Western diplomats have hailed the first appearance of a "more or less united" Libyan government for many years after the first day of talks in Berlin that seek to build on the ceasefire agreed to last year.

A senior official highlighted the importance of elections expected in December to support the process of removing foreign fighters from Libya.

The interim Government of National Unity was formed in February, taking over from the five-year-old Government of National Accord and a separate eastern-based administration, but an election is scheduled for December 24 to establish a unified administration for the country.

"The Libyans joined as participants in the Berlin process for the first time, they were represented by government of national unity Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush," said Joey Hood, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs. "Issues surrounding military de-escalation were highlighted and while still unresolved, most useful bilateral discussions were held on how to begin to operationalise the departure of foreign fighters."

The first day of talks was attended by representatives from several countries and the unity government's prime minister and foreign minister.

December elections were important “not just to legitimise a long-term, credible Libyan government” but also with regard to “foreign forces, mercenaries, and fighters”, the diplomat said.

Mr Hood said it should be up to the new Libyan government to decide which countries would be granted security co-operation relationship agreements.

"The US supports a sovereign, stable, unified Libya with no foreign interference, and a state that's capable of combating terrorism within its borders," he said. "We firmly oppose all military escalation and all foreign military intervention, which only deepen and prolong the conflict."

Years of factional warfare in the oil-rich North African state have led to the presence of thousands of foreign mercenaries.

This week's meetings did not produce a concrete agreement on how to approach the withdrawal of foreign fighters, however, with Turkey entering a reservation to the 58-paragraph document on conference conclusions.

It called for the withdrawal of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libyan territory. Representatives at the talks included ministers from the UK and the UAE where a discussion on the two countries' "vital partnership" took place on the sidelines, British minister James Cleverly said.

The Turkish Parliament approved Ankara’s military intervention in January 2020 after an appeal for help from the Tripoli-based GNA, as rival factions attacked the capital.

Although a ceasefire has since been agreed to, the Turkish military remains in western Libya, with officials claiming this is by invitation and in a training capacity.

Also reported to be in the country are mercenaries belonging to the Russian Wagner Group who fought alongside forces aligned with eastern commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

“The Turks did a footnote on the language that relates to foreign forces because the Turks believe their trainers are there with a … viable agreement with a legitimate Libyan government, the previous Government of National Accord,” the US official said.

“So they don’t like being equated with foreign fighters and mercenaries, and the German foreign minister, I noticed at their press conference, made that point publicly.”

Turkey also sent thousands of Syrian mercenaries to bolster western Libyan forces.

The October 2020 ceasefire included a demand that foreign fighters leave Libya within 90 days and paved the way to the unity government.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the meeting “marked a new phase" and that “we are no longer only talking about Libya, but above all with Libya".