New cease-fire in Libya’s intractable conflict announced after Berlin summit

Libya summit in Germany
Russian President Vladimir Putin, second left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in blue jacket, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, second right, and French President Emmanuel Macron, foreground, talk on the sidelines of a peace summit on Libya in Berlin on Jan. 19, 2020.
(Aleksey Nikolskyi / Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

World leaders announced a new cease-fire Sunday and pledged to respect an arms embargo in Libya, concluding a U.N.-sponsored summit that marked an eleventh-hour push by European nations to re-engage in an intractable conflict they had long ignored.

“I cannot stress enough the summit’s conclusion that there is no military solution to the conflict in Libya,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a news conference on Sunday.

He added that all participants had committed to refraining “from interference in the armed conflict or internal affairs of Libya.”

“This must be adhered to,” he said.

The statements followed six hours of talks held in Berlin on Sunday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel assembled presidents and representatives of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as well as seven other countries — many of them involved in fueling Libya’s civil war through repeated violations of an arms embargo.

Libya has been racked by multiple spasms of violence since 2011, when a NATO operation dislodged longtime dictator Col. Moammar Kadafi amid wide-spread demonstrations against his rule.


The conflict has transformed the oil-rich African nation into a complex proxy battleground pitting the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord — which is based in the capital, Tripoli, and has the backing of Turkey and Italy — against a rival government affiliated with Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general in the mold of Kadafi who is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Egypt and France.

The latest wave of clashes began in April, when Haftar launched an offensive to overrun the capital and secure his grip over the entire country. The violence has already killed hundreds, and forced an estimated 150,000 people to flee before an onslaught that has seen the deployment of drones, armored vehicles, militias, mercenaries and even Syrian rebel fighters by the belligerents’ backers.

A previous cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey collapsed on Tuesday.

A communique issued at the end of the conference stressed the need for more robust international efforts to monitor the embargo. It also calls for an extensive demobilization and disarmament of the militias, along with sanctions against any violators of the Berlin agreement.

“We want to see the arms embargo respected,” Merkel said.

“We know that today’s meeting will not solve all the problems of Libya, but we wanted to give new impetus.”

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met with a number of leaders ahead of the summit and participated in the talks but did not speak to reporters at the news conference.

A statement from State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Pompeo had discussed with European Union High Representative Josep Borrell “ongoing international efforts to support a durable cease-fire in Libya, a return to a political process and the end of foreign interference in Libya.”

Also in attendance were Turkey‘s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Other countries invited were the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Algeria, China and the Republic of Congo.

Leaders from the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League also attended.

Underscoring the difficulties Merkel and other leaders faced, there was no face-to-face meeting between Haftar and Fayez Serraj, the premier of the Tripoli government.

“We talked to them individually because the differences between the two parties are of such a magnitude that the two parties do not speak to each other,” Merkel said.

The agreement follows years of marginal engagement by the U.S. and European nations, which mostly stood by as the country descended into confrontations waged by militias tapping the country’s resources. It also became a launchpad for migrants hoping to reach Europe’s shores, leaving governments there responding in ways that often exacerbated the situation.

But the introduction of Russian mercenaries last year and the recent deployment of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels raised the risk of what Guterres called “a true regional escalation.”

“It’s reached a dangerous dimension,” he said. “That risk was averted in Berlin, provided, of course, that it’s possible to maintain the truce and then to move into a cease-fire.”

Yet few expect the agreement to be a real breakthrough.

Haftar, said Emad Badi, a Libya scholar at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, had already broken other cease-fire agreements; in recent days he mobilized his loyalist forces to blockade Libyan ports and oil fields. And he was still welcomed in Berlin.

“Everyone failed to condemn it.... How do you think this will be viewed locally?” Badi said.

Haftar had also refused to pull back his forces from the capital’s outskirts and ignored calls for a buffer zone, said Mohamed Jarh, analyst with the eastern Libyan consulting firm Libya Outlook.

“Some people believe the fighting would restart by the weekend,” he said.

Kirschbaum, a Times special correspondent, reported from Berlin. Staff writer Bulos reported from Baghdad.