Russia, Turkey Reach Agreement to Remove Troops From Libya, U.S. Official Says

A senior U.S. official said Russia and Turkey have tentatively reached an agreement to begin the process of withdrawing foreign troops from Libya in agreement with Germany's Foreign Minister pledging to remove foreign forces from Libya.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that the deal is not yet done, but each country is prepared to discuss an incremental withdrawal of about 300 troops by both sides.

"We will not let up, and we will not rest, until the last foreign forces have left Libya ... wherever they come from," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Maas said that Russia and Turkey have been heavily involved on opposite sides, but acknowledged that a withdrawal would have to be taken "step by step" while also maintaining balance so one side doesn't gain an advantage over the other.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Heiko Maas
BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 23: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks to the media during the second international Libya conference on June 23, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. The conference is bringing together representatives from the UN Security Council, the new Libyan government, Turkey, as well as various North African and Middle Eastern states to assess and promote progress towards definitively ending the military conflict in Libya. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Libya's transitional government underlined its commitment to holding elections on Dec. 24 at a conference Wednesday with powers that have interests in the North African country, while the German hosts vowed to keep up pressure until all foreign forces have been withdrawn from Libya.

Germany and the United Nations brought together 17 countries at the conference in Berlin. Libya's transitional leadership was joined by foreign ministers from Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, France and Italy, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and senior officials from Russia, the United Arab Emirates and others.

The meeting followed up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country's warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.

Maas said the meeting "marked a new phase" and that "we are no longer only talking about Libya, but above all with Libya."

Participants welcomed progress since the process was launched. An October cease-fire agreement including a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the elections in December and the transitional government that took office in February.

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush said the transitional government came "with a vision of how best to re-establish stability in our country and pave the way for free, inclusive and safe elections on Dec. 24."

Wednesday's conference saw powers involved in Libya recommit to refraining from interfering in the country's internal affairs and stating that foreign forces and mercenaries need to be withdrawn "without delay" — something on which there has been little progress.

Asked what guarantees the countries involved are giving to withdraw foreign fighters, Maas pointed to the fact that they had gathered for the conference.

Mangoush said there was "progress" regarding mercenaries, "so hopefully within the coming days mercenaries from both sides are going to be withdrawn," creating more trust and leading to further steps.

A further challenge will be to start bringing all armed groups in Libya under a joint military command.

Speaking earlier Wednesday ahead of the conference, Blinken said that "we share the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified, secure Libya free from foreign interference — it's what the people of Libya deserve, it's critical to regional security as well."

"For that to happen, national elections need to go forward in December and that means urgent agreement is needed on constitutional and legal issues that would undergird those elections," he said. "And the Oct. 23 cease-fire agreement has to be fully implemented, including by withdrawing all foreign forces from Libya."

Conference participants supported efforts toward a reconciliation process and committed to helping Libyan authorities "in developing a comprehensive approach to addressing migration," including the closure of detention centers.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders said this week it was suspending its activities in two detention centers in Tripoli after "repeated incidents of violence toward refugees and migrants held there." It said staff had witnessed guards beating detainees at one center and received reports of people being shot at in another.

Libya has been a key transit country for migrants from Africa trying to reach Europe, especially after the collapse of order when a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was long divided between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country's east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

In April 2019, eastern-based commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. Hifter's 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the U.N.-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, center, delivers a welcome speech at the beginning of the 'Second Berlin Conference on Libya' at the foreign office in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Michael Sohn, Pool/AP Photo