Libya summit backs ceasefire

What happened: Prime Minister Boris Johnson attended the UN Libya summit in Berlin yesterday with other world leaders.

  • The Prime Minister said: “If there is a ceasefire, yes, of course there’s a case for us doing what we do very well, which is sending experts to monitor the ceasefire.” Sky News reports British experts would be sent from the Foreign Office.
  • The summit included all parties in the civil war and was aimed at stopping foreign influence in the conflict. Alongside Prime Minister Johnson, attendees included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as Libya’s two main rival leaders, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj​ and General Khalifa Haftar​.
  • Before the meeting, Johnson said the aim of the conference was to “stop this jockeying for position. The people of Libya have suffered enough. It’s time for the country to move forward.”
  • Chancellor Merkel said after the meeting that all sides reached an agreement to support a ceasefire in Libya and committed to the UN-backed arms embargo. However, it was not clear what the punishment would be for violators.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concerns over the agreement. He said afterwards the major powers “have not yet succeeded in launching a serious and stable dialogue” between the warring parties.
  • On the side-lines of the meeting, Prime Minister Johnson told President Putin and said there will be no normalisation of bilateral relations until Russia brings ends its “destabilising activity”.

Context: Yesterday’s conference marked a new stage in diplomatic attempts to end the crisis in Libya.

  • Based in the eastern and southern parts of the country, military commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), which is backed by Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, began an assault on the capital Tripoli last April, leading to more than nine months of fighting in which more than 2,000 people have been killed, according to the UN.
  • His forces have so far been unable to take the city, but earlier this month the LNA captured the country’s third-biggest city, Sirte. The advance came on the heels of a failed Russian-Turkey ceasefire attempt due to Haftar’s delaying tactics.
  • Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj heads the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli and is supported by Turkey and Qatar.
  • Turkey provides direct military assistance to the GNA, including sending up to 2,000 Syrian fighters, drones and weapons to help the fight against the LNA. Ankara stepped up its engagement in Libya since signing a maritime treaty with the GNA in November to grant it exploration rights in the east Mediterranean Sea.
  • Part of the foreign interest in Libya is the country’s vast oil wealth – estimated to be the largest in Africa. The civil war has caused many ports and oilfields to shutdown, which has more than halved Libya’s crude export from 1.3m barrels per day to less than 500,000.
  • According to the Tripoli-based National Oil Company, which has already declared it cannot honour contracts because of unforeseen events, the shutdown is costing the country $55m per day.

Looking ahead: Because of the multitude of foreign actors involved in the conflict, it is difficult to predict what will happen next. The UN-sponsored conference reinforced the ceasefire and this will stall Haftar’s efforts to seize Tripoli and its environs. However, even if Haftar fails, he still controls most of Libya’s oil resources and will hold the key to solving the crisis. Most countries appear to be keeping their options open because they don’t want to be on the losing side. To break the supposed deadlock, the US will have to involve itself more and try to reach an agreement with Russia, but it appears unlikely that President Trump will want to commit himself to greater US intervention as he approaches the presidential election later this year.

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