U.N. says Libya’s time running out as foreign meddling unprecedented

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Wednesday that time is running out for bringing a peaceful end to the conflict in Libya with battle lines shifting, growing foreign interference, thousands fleeing their homes, and COVID-19 cases on the rise.

“Time is not on our side in Libya”, Guterres told a video-teleconference meeting of the Security Council.

“The conflict has entered a new phase, with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the number of mercenaries involved in the fighting.”

Since the Council last discussed Libya in May, he said, the forces allied to the Turkish-backed, U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) - “with significant external support” - have made gains and pressed eastward in their fight against rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and France, among others.

While the frontlines have mostly been quiet since June 10, with GNA forces 25 km from the strategic Mediterranean city of Sirte, Guterres said the U.N. was very concerned about the military build up around the city, as well as “a high level of direct foreign interference” in violation of a U.N. arms embargo, Security Council resolutions, and commitments made at the Berlin International Conference on Libya six months ago.

Meanwhile, almost 30,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to continuing fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs - which the LNA laid siege to in its failed attempt to capture the city that began in April 2019 – and in Tarhouna, bringing the total of internally displaced persons in Libya to more than 400,000, Guterres said.

Between Apr. 1 and June 30, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented at least 356 casualties, including 102 civilian deaths and 254 civilian injuries - a 172 percent increase compared to January-to-March. 

Turkey stepped up its military support to the United Nations-recognised GNA in December 2019, sending drones and other military hardware to Libya, along with thousands of Syrian mercenaries, many of whom have links to Islamist militant groups.

A Kremlin-linked Russian private military company reportedly operating in Libya has recruited hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to fight alongside the LNA in the war-torn North African country.

Guterres also said COVID-19 is a growing concern in Libya, with a seven-fold leap in cases in June alone that brought the total number of confirmed cases to 1,046, with 32 deaths.

“Amid acute shortages of testing kits, the true scale of the pandemic in Libya is likely to be much higher”, Guterres said.

Guterres said the U.N. would keep working with the warring parties to reach a ceasefire and resume a political process to end the conflict.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1067961