Fresh clashes in Libya amid UN ceasefire call

February 14, 2020

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TRIPOLI: Rival forces clashed in the Libyan capital on Thursday, causing new civilian casualties in the grinding conflict a day after a UN Security Council resolution called for a “lasting ceasefire”.

The resolution was the council’s first since eastern Libya strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive last April to seize Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

But the text, which calls in particular for the consolidation of a fragile truce observed since Jan 12, has not yielded the desired results.

A new round of violence on the southern outskirts of the Libyan capital on Thursday left civilians dead and wounded.

Tripoli’s sole functioning airport of Mitiga, frequently shut down by violence, announced it was again suspending flights following a rocket strike.

GNA spokesman Moustafa al-Mejii confirmed fighting had broken out in the suburb.

Despite the truce, there has been sporadic fighting almost every day near Tripoli.

Arms have continued to flow into the country even since world leaders agreed at a summit in Berlin to end all foreign interference in Libya and uphold a UN embargo.

The UNSC resolution adopted on Wednesday affirmed “the need for a lasting ceasefire in Libya at the earliest opportunity, without pre-conditions”.

It also called for continued negotiations by a joint military commission set up in January between the two sides, with the goal of achieving a “permanent ceasefire”.

This would include a monitoring system, a separation of forces and confidence-building measures. The commission’s Geneva meeting ended on Saturday without a resolution, but the UN proposed resuming talks from Feb 18.

The Security Council resolution, drafted by Britain, was approved by 14 votes out of 15, with Russia abstaining.

London had chosen to keep a mention of the council’s “concern over the growing involvement of mercenaries in Libya”, terminology that had been the subject of weeks of wrangling, reflecting the deep international divisions over Libya.

Russia had pushed to replace the word “mercenaries” with “foreign terrorist fighters”, but was unsuccessful.

Moscow has been accused of sending several thousand mercenaries from private Russian security company Wagner to support Haftar, who controls much of southern and eastern Libya. Russia denies the accusations.

Apart from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan have bolstered Haftar, who backs a rival to the GNA in the country’s east.

On the other side, Turkey has been accused of sending hundreds of pro-Turkish Syrian fighters to support the GNA.

Libya has been subject to a much-abused arms embargo since 2011, when a Nato-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qadhafi.

The UN says more than 1,000 people have died in the clashes between Haftar and the GNA since April, while another 140,000 have been displaced.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020