Libya is headed towards a “more dangerous conflagration” as foreign governments renege on their promises and send more guns and soldiers to both sides in the North African country’s civil war, a United Nations peace envoy warned on Thursday.
Troops And Weapons Pouring In: Salame
Addressing the UN Security Council, head of the United Nations Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salame described a “notable increase in heavy cargo flights” delivering “advanced equipment” to militants in eastern Libya and reinforcements to a UN-backed government being “flown into Tripoli by the thousands.”
This was despite Turkey, Russia, France, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and other foreign governments—which have been accused of arming Libyan militias—agreeing to abide by an arms embargo agreed to at the summit in Berlin earlier this month, Salame said.
“There are unscrupulous actors inside and outside Libya who cynically nod and wink towards efforts to promote peace and piously affirm their support for the UN,” said Salame, a Lebanese academic who represents UN chief Antonio Guterres in Libya.
“Meanwhile, they continue to double down on a military solution, raising the frightening specter of a full-scale conflict and further misery for the Libyan people,” Salame added.
Libya’s Descent Into Chaos
After Libya’s strongman leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, the oil-exporting nation spiraled into chaos, with a patchwork of militias across the country and two rival administrations—one in the capital, Tripoli, and another in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Turkey supports the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which is headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, while the UAE and Egypt back renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) controls much of the south and east of the country.
“The warring parties have continued to receive a sizeable amount of advanced equipment, fighters and advisors from foreign sponsors, in brazen violation of the arms embargo as well as of the pledges made by representatives of these countries in Berlin,” said Salame.
Salame described an uptick in cargo planes touching down at Benina Airport and Al-Khadim Airbase in eastern Libya and unloading weapons for Haftar’s LNA forces. Turkey is also understood to have sent thousands of Syrian mercenaries to bolster GNA troops around Tripoli, deployed warships in the seas around the capital and set up advanced air defense systems across the west.
Salame addressed the 15-nation body from Brazzaville, in the Republic of the Congo, where African Union leaders were meeting in an effort to play a bigger role in a conflict that is driving up tensions between world powers.
US Denounces ‘Toxic Foreign Interference’ In Libya
Kelly Craft, Washington’s ambassador to the world body, blasted the “toxic foreign interference” that is seeing the deployment of foreign fighters and mercenaries and the “delivery of weapons, ammunition, and advanced systems.” Council members met against a backdrop of mounting violence in Libya, where Haftar’s military offensive to wrest control of Tripoli has forced some 149,000 civilians to flee their homes since it began last April. In recent days, dozens of soldiers were killed during clashes between LNA and GNA forces around Abu Grain, south of the northwestern city of Misrata—a battle that saw a rebel drone shot out of the skies, according to reports.
‘Silence The Guns’
Speaking with journalists in New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric described worrying numbers of civilians being killed by shelling around Tripoli, warned that “things are not going in the right direction” and urged both sides to “silence the guns”.
In Libya, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR on Thursday said it was suspending operations at a refugee center in Tripoli for fear that it would become a target in a war that has already seen migrant lockups being hit in deadly airstrikes. UNHCR’s Libya head Jean-Paul Cavalieri said the troubled Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), which housed and protected some 1,000 migrants who were otherwise vulnerable to torture and forced labor, had been forced to close.
“Unfortunately UNHCR was left with no choice but to suspend work at the (GDF) after learning that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few meters away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees,” Cavalieri said in a statement. “We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians,” the statement added.
The closure of the facility, combined with the military buildup and the increase in violence on the ground, add pressure to an already-tense situation that in recent days saw France and Turkey fight out a war of words over Libya. French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday accused his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of breaking promises he made in Berlin on January 19, by sending warships and Syrian mercenaries to Syria. Ankara retaliated, with Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy accusing France of being chiefly responsible for Libya’s woes by giving “unconditional support to Haftar in order to have a say regarding natural resources.”