German minister in Tripoli to press for end to Libyan war
BERLIN (AP) — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made an unannounced visit to Tripoli on Monday, saying that the world must not be lulled into inaction by the “deceptive calm” in Libya and should find a way to end the conflict.
Maas said he would meet with officials in the U.N.-recognized administration in the capital to “talk about ways out of this very dangerous situation” where both sides in the bloody civil war are being armed by international allies.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Military commander Khalifa Hifter and his self-styled army launched an offensive in April 2019 trying to capture Tripoli. But his campaign collapsed in June when the Tripoli-allied militias, with Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his forces from the outskirts of Tripoli and other western towns.
Hifter is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Turkey, a bitter rival of Egypt and the U.A.E. in a broader regional struggle over political Islam, is the main patron of the Tripoli forces, which are also backed by the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar.
Germany has been trying to act as an intermediary, and in January held a summit in Berlin where participants from both sides agreed to respect an arms embargo and push Libya’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire, but the agreement has been repeatedly violated.
Earlier this month, the U.S. said it was “deeply troubled by the escalating conflict in Libya” and “strongly opposes foreign military involvement, including the use of mercenaries and private military contractors, by all sides.”
The White House called for a demilitarized zone around Sirte to avoid a battle over the coastal city that was once a stronghold for Islamic State militants.
At a news conference with Maas, Tripoli-based Foreign Minister Mohammed Siala said his administration “does not want to return to war, whether in Sirte, Jufra or anywhere else.” He also called for oil fields to be reopened and handed over to Libya’s National Oil Corporation.
Later Monday, Maas was to travel to Abu Dhabi to meet with his counterpart there to urge him to use the U.A.E.’s influence with Hifter “in line with the Berlin summit.”
“Only those who take part in a political process will be part of Libya’s future,” Maas said.
Libyan officials have said that Turkey has been working to establish two military bases in the west of the country.
As Maas visited Tripoli, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah were also in Tripoli, according to the office of the Libyan prime minister.
Turkey’s state-run news agency said Akar visited Tripoli to “observe activities” being conducted in line with the agreement reached between Turkey and the government in Tripoli. It did not elaborate.
Maas did not meet with either during his visit.
Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed.