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Germany calls for foreign fighters to leave Libya

June 23, 2021

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has expressed optimism after a Libya conference held in Berlin. He has also repeated calls for the withdrawal of foreign fighters and weapons from the country.

Libyans are seen through a Kingdom of Libya flag
Many hope elections set for December will put Libya on a path toward stability and democracyImage: Suhaib Salem/REUTERS

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on foreign fighters to leave Libya to ensure a peaceful transition in comments made after Wednesday's Berlin conference.

Maas said he was hopeful that the second internationally-backed Libya talks held in Berlin will boost the transitional government so that Libyans "can take the fate of their country into their own hands."

The German foreign minister also made it clear Wednesday that elections set for December 24 must go ahead. "We will continue to campaign for them alongside the Libyan government and the UN," Maas said.

Foreign ministers from the United States, Russia, China, Turkey and Egypt also took part in the Berlin talks, the second meeting in the German capital to discuss the situation in the North African country. 

Maas optimistic about progress

Maas struck an optimistic tone, pointing out that the collaboration between the Libyan transitional government and the UN had helped avoid a much worse disaster.

"Almost two years ago, Libya was on the edge of spiraling into chaos and violence," the German foreign minister said.

After the conference, Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush said she hoped foreign fighters would be withdrawn "hopefully within coming days." Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh also took part in the meeting and pledged to hold elections on December 24.

Alongside key foreign actors, Maas underlined the role that Libyans themselves should be allowed to take in this new phase of the talks where they "will not just talk about Libya, but with Libyans about the future of their country."

Stephanie Turco Williams, a former UN envoy who helped broker last year's ceasefire between Libya's warring factions, said there is a strong push in Libya for the elections to take place.

"As many as 70% of Libyans want to see elections take place sometime," she told DW. "They want a representative government. They want a government that enables them to resume and to restore the sovereignty of the country. A unified representative government is really best placed to make the kinds of decisions for the people of Libya moving forward."

Libya was dragged into a bitter civil war in 2011 as different political groups battled it out in the power vacuum left by the overthrow of the country's dictatorial President Moammar Gadhafi.

The previous Berlin talks, held in January last year, also sought the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and weapons from Libya. According to the UN's most recent data, some 20,000 foreign fighters are still in the country.

Germany holding 'background talks' with countries supporting foreign fighters

"The German government is holding background talks with those countries who are supporting foreign fighters," Roderich Kiesewetter (CDU) from the German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee told DW.

He also said he believes that in "the long term, we need the presence of international engagement, for example, of the European Union or of the African Union" in order to find enduring peace. 

"I believe we should really engage the key leaders of the African Union," he added. "This could be supported by the European Union under the umbrella of the United Nations. This would be a way out which will guarantee security on the one side, but also needs acceptance by the Libyan population. If the African Union is owning the process, this would be really good progress."

jsi, ab, wd/sms (AFP, dpa)