The big powers have stumbled yet again in their essay towards peace in Libya. Close to a decade after the fractious nation imploded, a cease-fire remains ever so elusive. That indeed was the rather uninspiring signal from Berlin on Monday, at the end of the summit of world leaders who were anxious to forge an enduring cease-fire.
A truce may still be a long way away. The Presidents of Russia, Turkey and France joined other global leaders at the talks hosted by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and held under the auspices of the UN. The world body, it would be pertinent to recall, had prevaricated in terms of intervention. Post-Gaddafi, it has presided over an abortive endeavour towards a cease-fire. The summit has agreed for now to impose sanctions on those breaking an arms embargo; they are even considering whether to send a multinational force to the country.
The conference in Berlin of 11 countries was aimed at bringing an end to the fighting between the UN-recognised government in Tripoli led by the Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army in the country’s east led by Gen Khalifa Haftar. This is the dichotomy in governance that Libya will have to contend with for some time yet. Stability still seems to be rather improbable given the fractious nature of the tribal segment and the dire conflict of interests and loyalty.
In retrospect, that sectarian conflict has only exacerbated since the killing of the dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. The summit did have a laudable goalpost ~ to get foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop interfering in the war… with weapons, troops or funds. Eleven countries, including key players such as France, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, the US and the UK, attended, as did António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, in the biggest show of international involvement in Libya for many years.
The Berlin conference was held in parallel to reports of air raids in Tripoli and enforced closure of oil installations by tribesmen trying to influence the outcome of the talks. Post the momentous changes that were set in motion in 2011, Libya has been reduced to a turf of conflicting international interests. The Berlin conference was largely designed to discourage external actors from turning Libya into a battleground for rival countries backing either side in the civil war. Far from being defused, the civil war has escalated. It thus comes about that Russia, Jordan and the UAE have been providing military support to Haftar, while Turkey has come to the aid of the Sarraj government, and dangerously so by sending Syrian rebel fighters to defend Tripoli. Peace conferences over the past two years have not yielded results. Peace in the Arab world remains an improbable quantity, as elusive as in Afghanistan.