At the invitation of Germany, the UN Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino León, spoke to representatives of the Libyan conflict parties about possible ways of advancing the peace process in the country at a conference in Berlin on Wednesday (10 June). Also participating in the talks were government representatives from the permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as Italy, Spain, Germany and the European Union. The international community made it clear that they backed the UN proposal, put forward by León, for resolving the conflict in Libya.
The meeting in Berlin was the first time representatives of the two Libyan conflict parties had come together around one table and engaging in direct talks about the peace process in Libya. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked UN Special Envoy León for his mediation work and underlined the importance of the proposal now on the table, saying that the international community had made their support for León’s suggestion very clear. Steinmeier and León both expressed the conviction that only an inclusive political settlement of the conflict could bring a lasting resolution of the political crisis in Libya.
The country has been descending steadily into chaos and violence since the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. Furthermore, Libya’s unity is being undermined by the rival parties engaged in the conflict and the increasing influence of Islamist forces. Most recently, the terrorist group ISIS announced on Tuesday that it had gained control of the important coastal city of Sirte.
Keeping Libya from collapse
That is why Foreign Steinmeier also said on Wednesday that, in his assessment, reaching agreement on a government of national unity could be “Libya’s last chance”. He was speaking to the press in Berlin, together with UN Special Envoy León, after the talks had ended. He described the current proposal as “viable”, in spite of what he called the “painful compromises” it would demand of all involved.
At the same time, Steinmeier warned, the “cancerous tumour that is ISIS” was growing with each day that the conflict persisted. Referring also to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, Steinmeier pointed out that chaos and the lack of legal order in Libya created ideal conditions for trafficking gangs to operate.
The German Foreign Minister therefore expressed the hope that the talks in Berlin would not be in vain. The time had now come, he said, “when there are no excuses left.” León also insisted that the time was ripe for agreement to be reached. The aim, he said, was to arrive at an agreement in the coming weeks, with a view to the start of Ramadan, the month of fasting in the Muslim calendar.
Steinmeier pledged that, if the conflict parties reached agreement, Germany would provide support for reconstruction in Libya. The European Union also stood ready, he went on, to help Libyans build a new state. Steinmeier named the rule of law, efficient administration and democratic institutions as possible areas for this support.
Continuing support for Libya
The Libyan delegations arrived in the German capital together with León the evening before the Berlin talks (9 June), after negotiations in Rabat, Morocco. León had presented the conflict parties with a fourth proposal on settling the conflict and forming a government of national unity at the beginning of the week. Wednesday saw the continuation of negotiations on the basis of that proposal and in the form, for the first time, of face-to-face talks.
Representatives of the international community were also present for the peace talks in the Federal Foreign Office’s Weltsaal. Foreign Minister Steinmeier co-chaired the closing session with the UN Special Envoy.