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Algeria pushing to fix Libya conflict, avoid Turkish deployment

By Rania Hamdi, in Algiers
Posted on Thursday, 9 January 2020 16:51, updated on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 10:28

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune discuss the Libyan crisis in Algiers on 7 January 2020. © AP/SIPA

In Algiers, the same day visits of the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey on 6 January, illustrate the diplomatic strides being made by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to resolve the conflict in Libya, with Ankara recently announcing that it would begin deploying troops there.

After many years of diplomatic absence due to ousted former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s poor health, Algeria appears to be determined to play an active role in resolving the Libyan conflict, which is perceived as posing a serious threat to its border security.

The simultaneous presence in Algiers of the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlut Cavusoglu, is hardly accidental. It is an attempt at mediation to avoid the worst in Libya, where Ankara has started deploying Turkish troops in support of Tripoli.

In addition, in an attempt to put an end to the dangerous escalation, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune met with the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, on Monday, 6 January. Chancellor Merkel invited President Tebboune to participate in the upcoming Berlin conference on Libya, the date of which has yet to be set.

Sabri Boukadoum, Algeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently conferred with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and successively with his counterparts from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Mali, Niger, Chad and France, which all play some part, whether directly or indirectly, in the Libyan conflict.

President Tebboune’s priority

While insisting on the principle of “neutrality,” the recently elected president has made the Libyan issue a priority since his inauguration. On 18 December, he warned: “Algeria is the first country to be impacted by instability in Libya and we will never allow ourselves to be excluded from the Libyan peace process.”

However, the numerous discussions underway have not completely smoothed out the differences in perspective between Ankara, Tripoli and Algiers.

Algeria is adamantly against a future deployment of Turkish forces in Libya, which it views as a threat equal to that posed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and as likely to worsen the security situation in North Africa and the Sahel, the soft underbelly at its southern border.

On 26 December, Algeria’s high security council (Haut conseil de sécurité – HCS), chaired by the Algerian president, decided to take measures “to protect our borders […] and revive Algeria’s role on the world stage, particularly concerning [Libya and Mali] and, in a wider sense, the Sahel, the Sahara region and Africa,” according to a press release of the presidency.

Algiers’ rush to end the Libyan conflict is largely due to the exorbitant amount of money it pays to secure its border with Libya – stretching some 1,000 kilometres – with experts estimating the cost at $500m per year.

Algeria increased the money it allocates to border security after Ankara announced that it would deploy troops in Tripoli to back the GNA.

Its budget for border security runs the risk of a dramatic increase and could impact Algeria’s entire security budget, which is also used to fight the spread of terrorism at its borders with Niger and Mali.

“Putting an end to the military escalation”

In a press release published following President Tebboune’s meeting with Fayez al-Sarraj, the president’s office called on “the international community, particularly the United Nations Security Council, to carry out its responsibilities by enforcing an immediate cease fire and putting an end to the military escalation” in Libya.

In addition, Algiers would like the UN resolution that has imposed an arms embargo on Libya since 2011 to be extended to prohibit intervention and military action.

The visit of the Turkish and Libyan delegations gave President Tebboune the opportunity to reiterate Algeria’s consistent position opposing any foreign intervention in Libya, while sparing no effort to find a political solution to the crisis.

Ahmed Maiteeq, the Vice-Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, said he hoped “Algeria would make a strong comeback in the Libyan conflict” after recent developments in Tripoli, which has been the target of attacks by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s troops for over two weeks.

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