9 April 2019

Libya: UN Postpones Libyan National Conference Due to Fighting

Photo: Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo
Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, speaks to the press in September 2017.

United Nations — The United Nations said Tuesday that a national conference for Libya scheduled for Sunday to bring warring parties together is unlikely to go ahead due to the military escalation in Tripoli.

In a statement, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame said that he is determined to hold the national conference as soon as possible, but that the current recurrence of fighting is overshadowing the political process.

"I therefore reiterate that I am more determined than ever to hold the national conference at the earliest possible opportunity, as we cannot allow the historic opportunity it presents to be lost," Salame said in the statement. "We also cannot ask Libyans to attend a conference to the backdrop of artillery shelling and air raids as we must ensure that all of those who expressed willingness to respond to this historic and national event from all over the country are able to attend and are able to voice their opinions freely."

The envoy said he would "work day and night" to end the current military escalation, which began last week and has left dozens of civilians dead, including two doctors.

Forces under the command of General Khalifa Haftar, who holds sway in the country's east, have advanced into the capital, Tripoli, which is controlled by the U.N.-backed Presidential Council and Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj. Air strikes and fighting have ensued.

The prime minister called Haftar's offensive an attempted coup.

Haftar has received support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia in the past, but Moscow and Abu Dhabi have joined the current calls for restraint.

U.N. Security Council members Britain and Germany have requested that the 15-nation body meet on Wednesday to discuss the escalation. The council last met about the situation on Friday as the current cycle of fighting erupted.

Late Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to all military operations and urged the parties to hold talks to reach a political resolution.

His comments came after forces loyal to General Haftar acknowledged responsibility for an airstrike that hit the only functioning airport in Tripoli.

There were no reported injuries from the strike at Mitiga airport, but the attack did force the airport to close for several hours.

The United Nations has appealed for a humanitarian truce in the suburbs of Tripoli to evacuate civilians. Some 4,500 people have been displaced due to the fighting.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an immediate halt to Haftar's advance and said all of parties involved "have a responsibility to urgently de-escalate the situation."

The United Nations has appealed for $202 million for its humanitarian response in Libya this year, but it is woefully underfunded, with only six percent received.

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