The UN-sponsored second global Conference on Libya was held on Wednesday June 23 at Berlin, Germany. Speaking after the conference, Libya’s foreign minister Najla al-Mangoush said that she hoped that all foreign mercenaries in the country would start leaving within the next few days. Her government’s concerns were recorded in the final declaration of the conference which says that, as agreed during Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in November last year, “all foreign forces and mercenaries need to be withdrawn from Libya without delay.” However, Turkey has raised objections to the call.
The meeting was sponsored by the UN and was attended by various parties including the African Union, China and Russia. Libyan prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, US secretary of state Antony Blinken, German foreign minister Heiko Maas and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres also addressed the conference.
There are around 20,000 foreign mercenaries in Libya, according to UN estimates. A majority of them were deployed by Turkey and Russia in support of two rival governments during the war in the country. Turkey supported the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli while Russia supported the Libyan National Army under Khalifa Haftar.
After a prolonged dialogue initiated by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), a lasting ceasefire has been achieved in the country and a transitional government has been formed to oversee the preparation of national elections on December 24 this year. The government headed by prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has been approved by the Libyan parliament based in Tobruk and most of the warring factions. It has reiterated its call for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country, calling them a threat to the peace process.
In his message to the Berlin conference, the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres reiterated the same demand, urging “Libyan and external parties to agree on a comprehensive plan, with clear timelines, to achieve this goal, which UNSMIL stands ready to support.”
We must put an end to all foreign interference in Libya, including the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
I urge Libyan and external parties to agree on a comprehensive plan, with clear timelines, to achieve this goal.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) June 23, 2021
Over 13,000 of the mercenaries are affiliated to Turkey. However, it had resisted calls for the withdrawal of these mercenaries from the country claiming that they were deployed at the request of a legitimate government (GNA). Its representative raised a reservation against the call for the withdrawal of troops on Wednesday. Earlier this year in May, Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had said that foreign mercenary forces should not be confused with legitimate forces.
GNA had signed a cooperation agreement with Turkey in December 2019 following which Turkey sent thousands of mercenaries to Tripoli’s aid. This strengthened the GNA’s hold on Tripoli and adjacent regions against the LNA’s attacks.
The declaration also focused on addressing the structural causes of the conflict in Libya, hoping to place the armed forces under the command of a “unified civilian authority” as well as a transparent and fair allocation of resources across the country, emphasizing that a “process of inclusive, comprehensive and right-based national conciliation and transitional justice must begin”.
The war in Libya began after a NATO and US led invasion of the country in 2011 which displaced long term ruler Muammar Gaddafi from power and divided the country into different warring groups competing for central power with the support of rival external powers including Egypt, France, Italy, UAE, Turkey and Russia.