UN envoy calls for truce in Libyan war for Muslim holiday

The UN envoy for Libya called Monday for a truce between the country’s warring parties during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, warning that the ongoing conflict can grow into “a full-blown civil war” with potentially existential consequences for Libya and its neighbours.

Ghassan Salame told the Security Council that the truce for Eid, the festival of sacrifice which will fall around August 10, should include confidence-building measures including a prisoner exchange and release of detainees.

It should be followed by a high-level meeting of “concerned countries” to cement the cessation of hostilities, as well as a meeting of key Libyan figures to agree on a way forward for the fractured country, he said.

Salame said his three-part action plan will require consensus among the Security Council’s 15 members and other countries “who exert influence on the ground.”

Libya’s civil war in 2011 toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and in the chaos the country was divided. A UN-supported but weak administration in the capital, Tripoli, oversees the country’s west, and a rival government in the east is aligned with the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Hifter. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.

Hifter launched a surprise military offensive on April 4 aimed at capturing Tripoli — despite commitments to attend a national conference weeks later aimed at forming a united government and moving toward elections in the oil-rich North African country.

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are backing Hifter while Turkey and Qatar are supporting militias allied with the Tripoli-backed government, led by Fayez Serraj. At the same time, Western nations have partnered with militias to combat extremists and stem the flow of Europe-bound migrants.

“More than ever, Libyans are now fighting the wars of other countries who appear content to fight to the last Libyan and to see the country entirely destroyed in order to settle their own scores,” Salame told the council by video from Tripoli.

Peru’s UN Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, the current council president, told reporters after closed consultations that there was “broad support” for Salame’s proposal, particularly for a truce, but some members said they needed to consult with their capitals. Hopefully “there will be good news,” and in a few days the council will be able to issue a formal statement, he said.

Nearly four months after the offensive began, Salame said both Hifter and Sarraj “have publicly reaffirmed their commitment to a future political and electoral process but have yet to take practical steps to stop fighting.”

The UN envoy said Hifter’s forces say they won’t stop their attacks until Tripoli is conquered, while Serraj’s forces insist they can push Hifter’s fighters back to eastern Libya.

Salame warned that the security vacuum created by the conflict continues to be exploited by the Islamic State group in Libya’s southern and central regions.

“Even more worrisome are the indications that the arsenal of weapons being delivered by foreign supporters to one side or the other is either falling into the hands of terrorist groups or being sold to them,” he said.

Salame added that some extremists have sought to legitimize themselves by joining the conflict, which he called “a recipe for disaster” not only for Libyans but for their neighbours and international peace and security.

He said fighting has aggravated water and electricity shortages with summer heat at a peak, and the risks to Libya’s oil production are equally grave.

“There is a serious danger of the weaponization of oil in this conflict, the consequences of which would be disastrous to the Libyan economy,” Salame warned.

He said Libyans “need to listen to their better angels.”

“They are now fighting the wars of others and in so doing destroying their country,” Salame said.

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