Tuesday

18th Jun 2019

Opinion

Libya: Europe must get involved in a big way

  • According to UNHCR, around 450,000 Libyans are displaced in their own country (Photo: Internews Network)

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels for their traditional spring summit, one of the issues on their agenda is the situation in Libya.

With the EU border mission in Libya terminated and “peace negotiations” under the responsibility of UN Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino León, Europe’s back-seat attitude to Libya is rather dangerous.

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  • Isolated cities like Sirte and Darna without any economic perspective for the young are the ideal environment for Djihadi networks. (Photo: AslanMedia)

Two governments - “Karama” in eastern Libya, “Fajr” in western Libya - and dozens of rival tribes, all with their own militias and armed to the teeth, are vying for power.

Due to this internal strife, the political system has totally collapsed. The terror organisation “Islamic State” (“IS”) is gaining ground in Libya, controlling Darna in the east and large parts of Muammar Al-Gaddafi’s former stronghold Sirte.

Libya has become the main transit country for Europe-bound sea migrants and refugees. According to the UN, around 450,000 Libyans are displaced in their own country. Every third Libyan fled to Tunisia. Around around 3,500 refugees left Libyan coasts for Italy in January this year.

This is a challenge to European solidarity and crisis management.

Military fait accompli

A sustainable ceasefire and a stable and nation-wide accepted government in Libya would be in the EU’s own best interest.

But what should the EU do?

Europe has placed its faith in dialogue until now.

Dialogue should continue. But talking takes time, and that time is used by IS and other groups to present a military fait accompli.

This conflict is not going to come to an end as long as people and goods in general, and weapons in particular, can circulate freely.

The few state structures already in existence under Al-Gaddafi survived even after his death. But officials, for years used to nepotism and systemic allegiance, did not dare to take any decisions.

Incompetence and the “Political Isolation Law”, which, since 1969, has placed an employment ban on officials, politicians and leading cadre groups in the army and the intelligence services, make it impossible to use the large sums of money available for disarmament and the creation of employment opportunities.

The local level

Yet Libya still functions on the local level, where social responsibility is exercised by family and tribal structures.

Given that international diplomacy and projects in recent years have been confined to Tripoli rather than being extended to Benghazi and Sebha, “IS” extremists have moved in to fill the power vacuum.

Isolated cities like Sirte and Darna without any economic perspective for the young are the ideal environment for Djihadi networks. They invest a lot of money to gain support by local youths.

Their next targets are the cities in the Sahara province Fezzan, where they are trying to control the smuggling networks to Europe.

To prevent this, the country needs functioning community structures. These could also enable the militias to assume responsibility for border controls in south Libya.

Europe should help the local level to establish administrative and security structures.

A unit trained by the EU in Tripoli needs to have regional connections in order to prevent new conflicts. Even if there are not many reliable partners in a particular area, one needs to get in touch with them and train them to perform border control duties together with fighters from adjoining states.

If the EU wants to avoid that “IS” soon threaten the economic routes in the Mediterranean Sea, it has to take action.

Libyan oil

Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, large areas of the Libyan Sahara Desert possess a good infrastructure. Yet as a result of the current chaos even oil companies that were in it for the long haul are moving out. Without foreign workers and engineers the electricity and water supplies are also potentially at risk.

The West should be prepared to provide robust support for the resumption of oil production after a stabilisation of the situation. Returning oil specialists will have to be protected, and there is clearly a need for efficient foreign-trained security forces.

The world community should identify and prosecute war criminals and extremists. Despite sanctions imposed on militia leaders, many radicals still often visit Europe. Sweeping entry bans would be an initial signal and uncomplicated step in the right direction.

As religious extremism and the migration issue in North Africa are increasingly tied up with events in sub-Saharan Africa, the African Union and the EU should jointly develop solutions for the issues of migration and cross-border smuggling.

Turkey and Qatar, supporting the “Fajr” alliance, and the United Emirates and Egypt, backing ”Karama”, must be the EU’s first partners in serious talks to stop the flow of illegal weapons.

Ultimately, dialogue with other actors working in the region needs to be strengthened. This includes the US, whose 6th fleet is stationed in the Mediterranean and Russia, once a modus vivendi with Moscow is found against the background of the conflict in Ukraine.

Europe has no choice. It must now get involved in a very big way.

Mirco Keilbert has been free-lance reporter in Libya for four years, Christian-Peter Hanelt is Middle East and North Africa expert of Bertelsmann Stiftung. Their article is based on a publication of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Germany, "Europe must now get involved in a very big way".

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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