Ahead of a much-anticipated international peace conference in Berlin on Sunday, United Nations special envoy and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salame, revealed that he has a comprehensive plan to transform the current truce into a real ceasefire.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, he stated that the Berlin conference “does not seek to resolve the Libyan problem in its entirety, but rather seeks to garner international backing for what the Libyans agree on in the future.”
The Berlin conference is “radically” different than other meetings on Libya, he went on to say. He revealed that preparations for the conference had started back in August 2019 when he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A series of meetings followed with senior officials in Berlin and the UN.
The Berlin conference is the culmination of five months of preparations with ten countries, including five permanent members at the UN Security Council, the Arab League, European Union and African Union, said Salame.
Sunday’s conference, he added, seeks to garner international support for what the Libyans will agree on in terms of economic, political and security affairs.
On the military and security levels, the envoy hoped that a meeting would be held soon between officers from rival parties to address pressing security concerns, especially efforts to bolster the ceasefire and address the fate of armed groups spread throughout Libya.
Moreover, he revealed that the officials he had met with in the build-up to the Berlin talks will form a committee to follow up on the agreements that will be reached on Sunday. This stands in contrast to previous conferences when the UN mission was left on its own to implement decisions without sufficient international backing, which ultimately led to many agreements falling apart.
The goal is for concerned countries to come together in Berlin on Sunday to agree on several issues, including ending foreign meddling in Libyan affairs, ceasing the smuggling of weapons and mercenaries and respecting the Libyan people’s wishes, continued Salame.
He said that the Libyans themselves had turned to foreign powers, which in turn left their country victim to foreign meddling. This led to further divisions in the country. “We want to completely put an end to such interference … this can be achieved through the international support we are calling for and through internal Libyan agreement,” he explained.
Asked about the UN position on foreign fighters, specifically Syrians sent by Turkey, who are embroiled in the conflict, he said that fighters from more than ten countries are currently present in Libya.
“We have come up with a security plan that calls for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters, regardless of their nationality,” the envoy stressed. He said the fighters have come to Libya for various purposes. Some were hired by private security firms that work for various powers, others came for ideological reasons and others are hired mercenaries.
“We want all of these non-Libyans to leave regardless of their legal status in order to allow the Libyans to reach agreements among themselves,” Salame demanded. “We are fed up with foreign meddling and non-Libyan fighters on Libyan territories.”
“We are trying our hardest so that Libya returns to the Libyans alone.”
Commenting on Washington’s position on Libya and the Berlin conference, the envoy said the Americans had initially expressed reservations over the initiative. “We recently, however, witnessed greater interest from them and they have become more involved in the Berlin talks.”
Just two days ago the State Department said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will attend the meeting, said Salame, revealing: “He requested a meeting with us upon his arrival in Berlin.”
“The vagueness in Washington’s position is clearing and it appears keener on ensuring the success of the Berlin summit,” he remarked.
On the speaker of the Libyan parliament in the east demanding that the legitimacy of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord be dropped, the envoy said the UN recognizes the GNA in line with a 2016 Security Council resolution.
“We hope that a national unity government would be formed through inter-Libyan dialogue within the coming weeks. We hope that this would put an end for the existence of a government in Tripoli and a parallel” one in the east, he stated.