Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coronavirus? No Ceasefire in Libya

Libyan armed factions have defied a UN call for a “global ceasefire” by escalating fighting across the country, with forces loyal to eastern warlord Gen Khalifa Haftar claiming to have gained control of a string of towns in the north-west. The upsurge in fighting, probably the worst since the current phase of the civil war began, came as the first coronavirus case was revealed in the country and led to yet another UN security council call for both sides to end the fighting. Jonathan Allen, the UK senior diplomat at the UN, warned it was “next to impossible for the brave doctors and medical professionals in Libya to do what they need to do to save people”. 
The UN’s credibility in Libya is at rock-bottom with weapons embargoes openly breached and the UN special envoy, Ghassan Salamé, quitting in disgust at the big power competition in the country. 

A spokesman for Haftar said his forces, the Libyan National Army (LNA), had also repulsed an offensive by the UN-backed government of national accord designed to capture its key airbase – the failure of which will increase the fragility of the Tripoli government and its dependence on its Turkish backers.
Tripoli, the capital, has seen some of the worst bombardments since Haftar launched a renewed offensive in April last year, prompting the government there to launch a rare counter-offensive operation to try to seize Haftar’s al-Wutiya airbase. The bombardment of Tripoli continued on Thursday night. Turkey has started to use drones deeper into LNA-controlled territory in an effort to disrupt the Haftar offensive.

The EU reached an agreement to launch a naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea to enforce a UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya. The goal of the mission – named Operation Irini, the Greek word for peace – potentially puts the EU at risk of confrontation with Turkey, which is sending its weaponry by boat, while the United Arab Emirates, backers of the LNA, sends its support by air and so is unlikely to come across any EU interdiction.

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