‘No military solution’: World powers urge Libya de-escalation

The fight for Tripoli has killed at least 1,093 people to date, according to the World Health Organization [File: Yosri al-Jamal/Reuters]

France, Britain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United States and Italy have called for an immediate end of hostilities around the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and warned that “terrorist groups” are attempting to exploit the country’s security vacuum.

In a rare joint statement issued on Tuesday, the six countries urged Libya’s warring parties to return to a United Nations-mediated political process aimed at restoring peace in the sprawling North African state.

“There can be no military solution in Libya,” the statement said.

“Persistent violence has claimed nearly 1,100 lives, displaced more than 100,000, and fueled a growing humanitarian emergency,” it added.

Renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) has been battling rival militias since April in a bid to wrestle control of Tripoli from Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

The LNA’s push on the capital has not advanced beyond Tripoli’s southern suburbs but has nonetheless further destabilised oil-rich Libya, which has been mired in chaos since the NATO-backed toppling of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and split into rival eastern and western administrations since 2014.

Peace talks postponed

The fight for Tripoli has killed at least 1,093 people to date, according to the World Health Organization, including 106 civilians. More than 100,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

Amid the conflict, the UN was forced earlier this year to abandon its plans for a conference aimed at brokering an agreement to hold elections as part of a solution to Libya’s long-running political crisis.

The meeting was scheduled to bring Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj together in the southwestern town of Ghadames from April 14-16, but was postponed just days before.

The UN envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame had said at the time that talks cannot take place while “gunfire and air strikes” continued.

Salame also vowed to hold the event “as soon as possible … on the day when conditions of its success are ensured,” but did not give further details about any possible future date.

The statement by France, Britain, Egypt, the UAE, US and Italy said the mediation efforts needed to be re-energised in order to move towards the establishment of a “transitional government representing all Libyans” and preparing for “credible parliamentary and presidential elections”, among other things.

But Haftar, who casts himself as a foe of “extremism” despite being viewed by opponents as a new authoritarian leader in the mould of Gaddafi, has previously vowed to continue his offensive until Libya is “cleansed of terrorism”.

His forces, which control the eastern part of Libya and much of the south, enjoy the support of Egypt, the UAE and Russia. The GNA and allied militias, meanwhile, are backed by Turkey and Qatar.

Migrants, refugees at risk

Violence in Libya has also put at risk an estimated 6,000 migrants and refugees held in detention centres across the country.

The UN has persistently warned that those being held are not safe and called for them to be released.

The warnings escalated in recent weeks after a deadly July 2 air raid on a detention centre for migrants and refugees near Tripoli killed at least 60 people and wounded 77 others, prompting the UN Security Council to call for Libya’s warring parties to commit to a ceasefire.

GNA officials blamed Haftar’s forces for the killings, but the LNA denied the accusation, saying it targeted a nearby militia’s position but did not attack the hangar where the migrants were being held.

Libya is one of the main departure points for migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East and Africa and attempting to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean Sea. Many of those undertaking the journey use human traffickers to facilitate their movements.

Outside of the detention centres, approximately 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, as well as some 800,000 migrants are currently living elsewhere in the country, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

In their joint statement, the six world powers said “ongoing confrontation” had “exacerbated the tragedy of human migration in the Mediterranean”.

At least 682 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, almost half as many as the 1,425 registered in 2018.