UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke at a virtual ministerial meeting co-hosted by the UN and Germany to discuss efforts to establish peace in Libya.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during an interview with Reuters at UN headquarters in New York, NY, US, September 14, 2020.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during an interview with Reuters at UN headquarters in New York, NY, US, September 14, 2020. (Mike Segar/File Photo / Reuters)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world powers and others with interests in Libya’s long-running civil war to stop sending arms to its rival forces and keep working toward a lasting cease-fire, warning that the country’s very future "is at stake.”

Guterres implored those at a virtual ministerial meeting co-hosted by the UN and Germany on Monday to support peace efforts "not only in words but in actions," including immediately backing a widely violated UN arms embargo against Libya.

"The violations of the embargo are a scandal and call into question the basic commitment to peace of all involved,” he told the closed meeting. “Foreign deliveries of weapons and other military support must stop immediately.”

READ MORE: UN says Libya arms embargo a 'joke', demands accountability

Progress since Berlin summit reviewed

Germany, which has been trying to act as an intermediary, said the virtual meeting was a chance to review what’s been achieved since Berlin hosted a summit on Libya in January at which participants from both sides agreed to respect an arms embargo and push Libya’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. That agreement has been repeatedly violated.

A summary of the ministerial meeting by the co-chairs said participants reaffirmed their commitment to the conclusions of the Berlin conference, strongly welcomed the planned resumption of talks between the rival Libyan parties, and "stressed the need to immediately stop foreign intervention in Libya."

"There was broad agreement that repeated violations of the United Nations arms embargo had to stop immediately,” the co-chairs said.

READ MORE: Foreign interference in Libya reaching 'unprecedented levels' – UN

Arms embargo 'totally ineffective'

A report by the UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Libya, seen by The Associated Press (AP) last month, said the warring parties had violated the arms embargo, which remains "totally ineffective."

Acting UN special envoy Stephanie Williams told a news conference after what she called “a very candid dialogue” among the major players that weapons, mercenaries and equipment “are still pouring into Libya ... on both sides.” 

This “risks miscalculations on the ground” and poses “a direct threat to Libya’s neighbors,” she said.

“There are nine countries that are intervening in the Libyan conflict,” Williams said, without giving any names. “They all need to stop the breaches of the arms embargo.”

Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Warlord Khalifa Haftar and his militias launched an offensive in April 2019, trying to capture Tripoli, the capital. But his campaign collapsed in June when the Tripoli-allied forces, with Turkish support, gained the upper hand.

Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

The virtual meeting came amid international pressure on both sides to avert an attack on the strategic city of Sirte.

Guterres said he has been “encouraged” in recent weeks and months “to witness a lull in the fighting,” with a stalemate around Sirte and direct confrontation between both sides “limited.”

Recent talks in Egypt and Morocco resulted in positive steps by the warring sides, that included a preliminary deal that aims to guide the country toward elections within 18 months and demilitarize the contested city of Sirte. 

They also agreed to exchange prisoners and open up air and land transit across the country’s divided territory.

READ MORE: Libyan army heads for front to liberate Sirte from Haftar's militias

Oil production

The warlord also allowed the reopening of vital oil facilities last month, enabling production for the first time since powerful tribes loyal to him closed oil fields and terminals in January.

READ MORE: Warlord Haftar agrees to lift Libya oil blockade

“A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have been able to say this: there are reasons for cautious optimism,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after Monday’s meeting. “We are seeing increasing signs for a shift in thinking from military to political logic.”

“We have always said that stabilizing Libya is no sprint, but a marathon,” said Maas. “But after a phase where things even seemed to be moving backwards in recent months it’s good to be able to say we’ve managed another kilometre today.”

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the situation in Libya is still “fragile and complex.”

Looking ahead, special representative Williams said the first face-to-face military talks with five representatives from each of the warring parties will take place in Geneva “in the next couple of weeks.”

Williams expressed hope that the much larger political talks will start “before the end of the month,” but stressed that ensuring the health and safety of participants is key because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

She said there is widespread support for a resumption of political talks and she has heard “loud and clear” that Libyans want participants in the talks to “sign a pledge that they will not put their own names forward” for senior positions in a new executive.

READ MORE: UN registers Turkey's maritime deal with Libya

Source: AP