World Powers Urge Exit of Foreign Fighters to Secure Libya Peace

International powers stressed Wednesday the need for foreign fighters and mercenaries to be gradually withdrawn from Libya to avoid a lopsided power balance, tackling head on a major sticking point in the conflict that has ravaged the OPEC member.

The call, issued at a conference hosted by Germany and the United Nations in Berlin, was accompanied by a renewed commitment to push ahead with December elections critical to stabilizing the country after a decade of turmoil.

The withdrawal of non-Libyan forces “will be step by step,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters after the event. The pull-out, however, must be balanced to ensure no side gains an advantage, he said.

“We will not stop working until the last foreign forces have left Libya,” Maas said.

The Berlin meeting was the second of its kind hosted by Germany and comes months after warring parties agreed a cease-fire, ending a ruinous conflict that stymied efforts to revive Libya’s economy after the 2011 uprising that ousted Moammar Al Qaddafi.

Officials from Libya’s new transitional government attended as well as foreign ministers from the U.S., Europe and regional powers including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, which were militarily involved on opposite sides of an ultimately futile battle for the capital.

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush alluded to the difficulties and rifts, stressing that holding the elections on time was “imperative” for Libya’s stability and sovereignty.

The UN-mediated truce agreed in October ended fighting that began when eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture Tripoli.

The push quickly descended into a proxy war with the UAE and Russia intervening on Haftar’s side and Turkey backing the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli.

Though all have since declared support for the UN-led process to unify Libya, thousands of mercenaries remain in the country.

Libya was split between dueling eastern and western administrations from 2014 until this year, when lawmakers from both sides approved a new transitional government meant to lead the country to polls.

Despite agreement over the December elections, there are still divisions regarding the legal basis for holding the vote, as well as calls for a constitutional referendum to be held first.

Pivotal to the Libyan peace process is a wider geopolitical recalibration that’s taken place in the Middle East and North Africa since Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House. Turkey and Arab rivals including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have moved to rebuild diplomatic ties after years of tensions, a de-escalation that could strengthen efforts to stabilize the country.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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