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Libya elections, removal of foreign forces take focus at Berlin talks

Second Berlin Conference on Libya follows up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full ceasefire.

International participants, including Turkey, at the Second Berlin Conference on Libya in Berlin, Germany. June 23, 2021
International participants, including Turkey, at the Second Berlin Conference on Libya in Berlin, Germany. June 23, 2021 (AA)

Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference aiming to secure elections in the North African nation and remove foreign fighters.

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Speaking before the start of talks among foreign powers seeking to aid a political solution to the conflict, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the participants wanted to “ensure international support is there”.

Standing alongside him, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Libya must hold its planned elections. “We share the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified and secure Libya, free from foreign interference,” he added.

A ceasefire agreement from October last year “has to be fully implemented including by withdrawing all foreign forces,” Blinken told reporters ahead of the opening of the conference.

The meeting will be attended by the head of Libya’s Presidential Council Mohammed al Menfi and Prime Minister Dbeibeh, UN Special Envoy to Libya Jan Kubis, and the foreign ministers of the participating countries.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met Maas and Dbeibeh ahead of the second Berlin Conference on Libya.

“We discussed Libya, our EU relations in the context of immigration and customs union and tourism issues with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas,” Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter.

Helped by the United Nations, Libya has over the past year made swift progress in addressing a decade of chaos and violence that at one stage threatened to escalate into a full-scale regional conflict.

Rival administrations in the east and west of the country that had been at war with each other agreed a ceasefire and formed a unity government working to hold elections in December.

However, big risks persist with questions on all sides’ commitment to the elections, and with the continued presence of myriad armed groups backed by foreign forces or mercenaries.

The Berlin meeting aims to build international support for the political process and to cement the ceasefire.

It follows a previous conference in Berlin early last year that set out political, military and economic tracks to resolve a decade of chaos and violence since a NATO-backed uprising ousted the former leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The political progress emerged in the wake of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar’s failed 14-month assault on Tripoli, as a new frontline solidified near the coastal city of Sirte.

Haftar was backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt. The Tripoli government was supported by Turkey, which ultimately helped it repel the assault.

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