Fighting between rival brigades in Libya’s capital and airport represented a sharp escalation that had forced withdrawal of United Nations staff and was threatening the country’s political transition, the world Organization’s top envoy to the country told the Security Council this morning.
“The quick pace with which developments have unfolded in Tripoli over the past couple of weeks are a reflection of the deeply fractured political scene which continues to hang heavy over the country, undermining the political process,” Tarek Mitri, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, told the 15-member body by teleconference from Beirut.
“The stakes are high for all sides,” added Mr. Mitri, who is also the Head of the United Nations Support Mission to Libya (UNSMIL), at a briefing that also featured Mohamed Abdel Aziz, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Libya.
Mr. Mitri said that the current escalation initially started as a minor incident on 5 July between elements from rival brigades at a checkpoint near the UNSMIL compound, but rapidly spread into a series of major clashes across the capital, with the battle for the [international] airport becoming an all-out confrontation between two rival groups and resulting in the suspension of all flights.
This fighting, along with a marked surge of conflict in the east of the country over the past few days, particularly in Benghazi where the airport was also being shelled and had suspended operations, engendered “a mounting sense of a probable imminent and significant escalation in the conflict”, he said.
The difficult decision to withdraw some and then most UNSMIL personnel was made in view of the deteriorating situation that included direct hits from gunfire on the mission’s compound, along with the suspension of air flights and the implication of both those developments on the staff’s ability to carry out its work, he said.
The evacuation of staff, carried out on 13 and 14 July by road to Tunisia, was a temporary move and would be reviewed as soon as there was improvement in security, he said. Libyan authorities were informed, and expressed their full understanding of the move, he stressed.
In the political arena, he said that the current fighting had “cast a shadow” over the 25 June election for the new Council of Representatives, meant to replace the General National Congress, he said. Some 40 per cent of registered voters had gone to the polls, but there were boycotts in some areas and some voting centres were impacted by acts of violence, with one candidate killed. Final results were due on 20 July, but as a result of the disruptions, 12 seats would remain vacant.
In addition, UNSMIL plans to convene a meeting of all major Libyan political actors had been postponed after preparatory documents were leaked and distorted by some media outlets and after some major participants expressed reluctance to attend. UNSMIL continued its contacts with various parties and groups in an attempt to de-escalate the current violence.
In other areas, Mr. Mitri stressed Libya’s obligation to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in handing over Saif al-Islam Qadhafi and to allow proper legal representation for all other individuals connected with the former regime who were being tried. He also highlighted the plight of an ever increasing number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who attempted to enter Europe from Libya, urging immediate action to improve detention conditions, reduce its use overall and formalize the United Nations role in processing such persons.
Minister Abdel Aziz agreed that Libya was facing serious threats with far-reaching consequences for the country, as well as for the region. At the same time, he pointed to many positive efforts and achievements, which, after 42 years of oppression, had occurred, including the establishment of a Government, the legitimacy of which had been confirmed by a newly independent judicial system.
He reported challenges at all levels of society, from the growing population of internally displaced persons, to the conflicts fed by tribal association with armed groups, to inadequate public engagement despite the presence of thousands of civil society organizations. There was also a lack of trust between the public and Government and between governmental bodies themselves.
Economic deterioration was another reality, he said, due in large part to the decline in oil production and exports, as the oil fields had been controlled by armed groups for almost a year resulting in the loss of 30 billion barrels of oil. The Government did not have the military means to resolve that situation and was instead pursuing dialogue.
Political conflicts had arisen between those wanting to build a State based on rule of law and democratic principles and others wanting one based on their ideology, he went on, adding that the result was a lack of meaningful national dialogue.
In addition, he said, efforts to abolish the Political Isolation Law, which bars senior staff of the former regime from participating in Government, were being met with threats of violence. State-building was thus being fought by those wanting a small emirate, headed by war lords. “They do not like to see the State built the way it should be,” he said.
A credible national security sector and a humane, functional judicial system had not materialized in the past three years, he continued, pointing out that some religious groups had greater capabilities than the Government. Armed conflict between groups had increased, along with kidnapping and the killing of activists, lawyers and journalists.
Noting Libyan authorities’ tremendous efforts to convene a national dialogue within limited means, he called for more effective international support for building institutions for security and governance. “Should Libya become a failed State kidnapped by radical groups and warlords, the consequence will be far-reaching and perhaps be beyond control,” he said, warning that the country could easily become a hub for radical elements.
Calling on the Security Council to live up to the Libyans’ expectations, he suggested that the body could provide a legal framework to bring more coherence to political efforts, given that it was still under Chapter VII. He stressed that he was not calling for military intervention, but for a mission — whose duties would differ from the political Mission now in place — focused on stabilization, institution-building, and an effective security sector.
Such a mission, he said, should contribute to the protection of oil fields and airports through training of personnel and should support capacity-building with anti-corruption mechanisms, in order to empower the State to meet the challenges, in close cooperation with all regional and international partners.
“Please take the case of Libya seriously before it is too late,” he appealed to the Council, pointing to the importance of domestic stability, not only for the 6.5 million Libyans, but also for the world, given the country’s regional importance and role in energy production. He stressed that Libyans were responsible for shaping their own destiny but that they could not achieve it alone. What they needed was solidarity that went beyond national interest.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 10:45 a.m., at which time Council members were invited into consultations on the situation.
UN Security Council – Department of Public Information
This article was originally published here.