Second Berlin conference brings progress on ending foreign interference in Libya

Conference of foreign leaders aimed to shore up planned elections and get mercenaries out of country

Libya is moving closer to ejecting foreign mercenaries and military groups from its soil, the country's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Progress towards ending outside interference in Libya was made at a gathering of Libyan representatives and international powers in Berlin, the second conference on the conflict to take place in the German capital.

"We have progress in terms of mercenaries," Najla Mangoush told reporters at the close of the UN and German-led conference.

"Hopefully within the coming days, mercenaries from both sides are going to be withdrawing, and I think this is going to be encouraging.

"We've built the trust measurement from both sides and then other steps will follow," she added.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that although progress had been made, the withdrawals would likely proceed gradually.

"I believe that between the Turkish and the Russian sides, there was also an understanding that if you stop, this will not mean that everybody will take their mercenaries back overnight," he said.

Mr Maas said Germany "will not falter" in its pursuit of ridding Libya of foreign mercenaries but warned that a military imbalance could be created if one side withdrew its mercenaries faster than the other.

Earlier in the day, Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh called on the international community to take Libya seriously and to respect its sovereignty.

He also promised to stop at nothing to ensure national elections, set for December 24, go ahead.

We must put an end to all foreign interference, including the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya

"I will not shy away from any efforts to make sure we overcome any obstacles in the way of sticking to the national elections and to make it possible for the people of Libya to elect officials," he told representatives from the US, UAE, UK and other countries.

The unity government took office in March with the backing of the UN and Western powers.

It replaced two warring governments that had ruled different parts of Libya, which had been in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for free participation in the elections, which many see as key to securing a lasting peace in the country, as well as in a community-led reconciliation programme.

“We must put an end to all foreign interference, including the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya," he said.

"I urge Libyan and and external parties to agree on a comprehensive plan with clear timelines to achieve this goal, which UNSMIL stands ready to support.”

Some $189m had been requested to meet humanitarian needs in Libya, he said, adding that the first group of UN peacekeeping monitors would be deployed to the North African country "soon".

Khalifa Shaheen Al Marar, UAE Minister of State and head of the UAE's delegation to the talks called on Libyan and international parties to "commit themselves to the political process and provide all factors to its success in order to realise security, stability and unity of Libyan institutions to fulfil the aspirations of the Libyan people for a more prosperous future,"

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Libya had its best opportunity in years to move forward as a safe and sovereign country.

“We share the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified, secure Libya, free from foreign interference,” he said. “It’s what the people of Libya deserve, it’s critical to regional security as well."

But Mr Dbeibeh raised a number of concerns over Libya's progress towards becoming a peaceful, democratic state.

The prime minister said Libya's legislature had not made "serious efforts" to create electoral laws and a functioning constitution.

One of the issues at hand is exactly what Libyans will vote for, particularly if the president should be directly elected.

Libya's High National Election Commission (HNEC) has said a decision on the constitution should be made by July 1 to prevent a delay to the December 24 election.

Mr Dbeibah told the conference that the continued presence of mercenaries and foreign military personnel in the country could jeopardise the political process.

“There are security concerns over the political process based on the direct and armed control of mercenaries in some areas, the presence of military forces with political dimensions… and the presence of some terrorists,” he said.

The meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin followed a conference in January 2020 at which leaders agreed to respect a UN arms embargo and to push Libya's warring parties to agree to a full ceasefire.

For the further stabilisation of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya

Germany is acting as an intermediary.

Countriesinvolved in the process include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with the UAE, Italy and Turkey.

Before the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that much has been achieved in the past two years.

An October ceasefire agreement included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days and a transitional government took office in February.

But “many challenges still lie ahead of us”, said Mr Maas.

“For the further stabilisation of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”

He said that Wednesday’s conference launches a new phase “in which we no longer only talk about Libya, but in which we are now speaking with Libyan men and women about the future of their country”.

Ms Mangoush, the Libyan foreign minister, said: "It’s time for actions because my people have heard enough."