German navy will add to Mediterranean mission by August, says minister for Middle East

Niels Annen tells The National that Europe’s naval patrols were a product of the Berlin peace initiative

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte welcomes Minister of state at Germany's foreign office Niels Annen as he arrives to attend the first day of the international conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
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The first German naval vessels to take part in Operation Irini, the EU naval mission to enforce Libya’s long-flouted arms embargo, will join in August, German Minister of State Niels Annen said.

Mr Annen told The National that Germany's commitment to the European mission was proof of its continuing support for Operation Irini, which was a product of the Berlin conference on Libya in January.

“Germany is already contributing with a maritime patrol aircraft as well as positions in the headquarters of the operation," he said.

"We are planning to contribute naval assets by August 2020. This underlines our government’s high political support for Irini and the Libyan peace process.

“By strengthening the arms embargo, the operation takes up a major element of the conclusions of the Berlin conference and translates it into concrete action and an EU added value."

Mr Annen said he was “very happy” the EU had launched Irini in “merely two months” after the conference.

epa08141937 German Chancellor Angela Merkel (3d-L) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) during the International Libya Conference in Berlin, Germany, 19 January 2020. By means of the 'Berlin Process', German government seeks to support the peace efforts of the United Nations (UN) to bring about an end to the conflict in Libya. Following the renewed outbreak of hostilities in April 2019, UN presented a plan to stop further military escalation and resume an intra-Libyan process of reconciliation.  EPA/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN POOL / POOL MANDATORY CREDIT
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, right, makes a point to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, centre, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on during the Libya conference in Berlin January 19, 2020. EPA / SPUTNIK

The naval mission, which became operational at the end of March and was agreed to in February, will enforce the 2011 UN weapons embargo on Libya with aircraft, satellite and maritime monitoring.

But the mission has been marred by infighting between EU members and was slow to begin a full launch. Many member nations are still considering what they will contribute.

Greek and French ships have joined the mission, but the Greek frigate Hydra will remain at a naval station on Crete before it joins patrols at the end of May.

Malta, which had pledged specially trained boarding personnel for the mission, withdrew its participation this month in an apparent bid to influence the Government of National Accord in Tripoli and its Turkish backers.

Mr Annen said logistical considerations had meant not all assets pledged to Irini had arrived and focus on the mission had been diverted by the coronavirus outbreak.

“In an organisation of 27 member states, the co-ordination and deployment of military capabilities for a new operation requires thorough planning and logistics,” he said.

“These days, we are facing additional challenges with mitigating the consequences of Covid-19.

"Nevertheless, Operation Irini started its activities shortly after its establishment.”

Mr Annen said the Berlin conference on Libya was aimed at the international community rather than the warring parties.'

He said the pledge to respect the arms embargo and commitment to return to the political process had been a “necessary result”.

Mr Annen said there had also been some “encouraging progress” on negotiations between the parties in Geneva.

But more violence in Libya has also hampered talks.

As fighting intensified around the capital Tripoli in February, the GNA and eastern politicians aligned with Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter’s Libyan National Army withdrew from the talks.

FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of the Libyan internationally recognised government forces head out to the front line from Misrata, Libya February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili/File Photo
Military vehicles of the Libyan internationally recognised government forces head out to the front line from Misrata, Libya  Reuters

“What Berlin has accomplished is to provide a framework for talks about a political solution and a ceasefire," Mr Annen said.

"After Berlin, we had the so called 5+5 military talks in Geneva under UN leadership, which resulted in a draft ceasefire agreement.

“We and our partners continue to engage with all relevant Libyan actors with the aim that this draft will be signed and implemented.”

The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, has also called for “an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire and a return to the political process”.

“The UAE’s position on the Libyan crisis has been firm and clear and shared by the majority of the international community,” Dr Gargash wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

When world powers met in Berlin at the start of the year, a fragile truce had been brokered by Turkey and Russia.

But tentative hopes that a full ceasefire could be achieved were ultimately dashed.

epa07310869 (FILE) - German Navy (Bundesmarine) frigate Augsburg (F213) docked in Wilhelmshaven, northern Germany, 03 September 2018 (reissued 23 January 2019). Media reports quoting military sources state on 23 January 2019, that Germany will not be sending any more ships in the Mediterranean Sea suspending its participation in the EU mission Sophia (EU NAVFOR Med), which is aimed at combatting criminal networks and people smuggling in the Mediterranean Sea. German Navy frigate Augsburg, currently stationed off the coast of Libya, will not be replaced upcoming February after concluding a five-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, media added.  EPA/FOCKE STRANGMANN *** Local Caption *** 54599143
The German frigate 'Augsburg' stationed off the coast of Libya during Operation Sophia, the forerunner to Operation Irini, in 2019 EPA

In the weeks since, the violence has escalated. In the past month GNA forces, bolstered by militias sent from Syria by Ankara, and  Turkish air and logistical support, have achieved a succession of military victories in the west of Libya.

The LNA gave up control of the strategically significant Al Watiya airbase on Monday, a position the eastern-aligned forces had held since 2014.

Mr Annen said Germany would continue to condemn violence in Libya.

“After a period of relative calm we now have a period of escalation in the fighting," he said.

"There are instances of indiscriminate shelling of residential neighbourhoods and civilian targets.

"This is unacceptable. We condemn these attacks in the strongest terms."

Mr Annen said that for stability to return to Libya, it was crucial that the arms embargo was adhered to.

“We need a commitment from all international partners to respect the arms embargo, from supporters of both sides of the conflict," he said.

"It is simply unacceptable that we are seeing continued arms exports to Libya, including by partners who were present at the Berlin conference."

Mr Annen said Germany would, in the future, look to use more options to bolster the embargo.

“We are still exploring options to do even more, for example in our role as chair of the UN Sanctions Committee," he said.

"This could include more frequent reporting by UN experts and clearer communication of findings on breaches of the embargo."