Libya’s internationally-recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj says his people are “frustrated by the silence of the international community”, amid an insurgency that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says has killed 205 people so far.
- Military forces led by General Khalifa Haftar are trying to overthrow the Tripoli government
- Since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the country has suffered from political instability
- The US and Russia have blocked British attempts to broker a UN-mandated ceasefire
The Prime Minister currently faces an insurgency led by an eastern Libyan army general, Khalifa Haftar.
In recent weeks, the general’s forces — which calls itself the Libyan National Army (LNA) — have launched attacks on Tripoli in an attempt to overthrow the Prime Minster.
General Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which view him as an anchor to restore stability and combat Islamist militants, while most Western powers have supported Mr Serraj.
In an interview with the BBC, Prime Minister Serraj explained that the current violence could “lead to other consequences”, citing a return to lawlessness that plagued the country during the 2011 Libyan Civil War.
Since then, the country has been recovering from a sizeable power vacuum since its longtime autocratic ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, was toppled and subsequently executed.
Prime Minister Serraj assumed control of government after the UN-brokered a deal to create a national unity government that was approved by Libya’s internationally-recognised parliament in 2015.
The Libyan economy has since struggled to recover as continued political instability has stripped the value of its currency, the Libyan dinar.
General Haftar has the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. (AP: Ivan Sekretarev, file)
General Haftar’s forces have seized oil fields and ports from the main government and enjoys support from Libya’s unrecognised rival government, based in the country’s east.
Presently, it is unclear exactly how General Haftar continues to secure funds for his forces, but it has been reported that the Eastern Central Bank of Libya — unrecognised by the international community — has devoted a third of its spending to General Haftar’s LNA between 2016–18, about $US6.8 billion ($9.5 billion).
Mr Serraj said that the current conflict could trigger another power vacuum that would invite previous combatants.
“Definitely there is fear that IS could come back, and take advantage of this void.”
UN scrambles to evacuate trapped refugees
WHO said it would send medical staff to treat the wounded, whose number has reached 913.
It wasn’t clear how many among the dead are civilians.
The UN says that more than 25,000 people have been displaced in the clashes.
Libya’s only international airport has been attacked by General Haftar’s forces, while the US Federal Aviation Administration has placed a ban on all civilian US aircraft flying over the Tripoli region.
Tripoli has been a popular but deadly launching site for refugees seeking to get across the Mediterranean into Europe.
In 2018, crossings from the Libyan coast killed one refugee for every 14 arrivals in Europe.
Libyan government forces are evacuating refugees from Tripoli’s conflict zones. (Reuters: Ahmed Jadallah)
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock allocated $US2 million ($2.8 million) from the UN’s emergency relief fund to help hospitals get surgical and trauma kits, provide food and other items to people uprooted by fighting, and help relocate vulnerable migrants and refugees.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in New York that “the number of civilian casualties, and attacks on civilian property and infrastructure, are worryingly on the rise.”
“Moving civilians out of conflict-affected areas remains a challenge, with nearly all main roads reportedly blocked and there being a high risk of being hit in crossfire.
“Nearly all local trade has ceased in these areas,” Mr Dujarric said.
US, Russia block attempts at UN-mandated ceasefire
Forces on all sides continue to trade blows despite international calls to stop the violence. (Reuters: Hani Amara )
While a United Nations Security Council informally expressed concern about the violence on April 5, Russia and the US have denied a British-drafted council resolution calling for a ceasefire.
It has called on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya, and blames eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar for the violence.
Russia specifically objected to the resolution’s attribution of blame, but the United States gave no reason for its opposition to the draft resolution.
“The Russians won’t accept mentioning Haftar’s name even though everyone knows he is the one behind this,” Mr Serraj said.
The Prime Minster is battling a rival government which has established itself in Libya’s east. (Flickr: US Secretary of Defence / Brigitte N Brantley)
The US’s reluctance is at odds with Washington’s earlier public opposition to General Haftar’s offensive.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an immediate end to hostilities, and opposed General Haftar’s offensive.
“This unilateral military campaign against Tripoli is endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans,” Mr Pompeo said.
The United States’ UN mission declined to comment and the Russian UN mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some UN diplomats have suggested the United States might be trying to buy time as President Donald Trump’s administration works out how to deal with the latest developments in Libya.
“The American system is trying to evaluate all the scenarios and work out which one is in America’s best interest and just hasn’t done that yet,” the diplomat said.
A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, Russia or China — the so-called permanent five — to pass.
It was not immediately clear if Britain would persist with negotiations on a draft next week, but Britain’s UN ambassador, Karen Pierce, said.
“There is unity around three key points — de-escalation, commitment to a cease-fire, get back into the political process.”