U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the commander of Libya’s eastern-based forces Wednesday that there can be no military solution to the conflict he launched in April 2019 against the U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the commander, Khalifa Hifter, called the secretary-general and they discussed current developments in the oil-rich country, which saw his forces retreat from Tripoli last month.
Hifter’s failed campaign to capture the capital has led to a humanitarian crisis, with 1 million people in need of aid and almost a half million people internally displaced.
Guterres told Hifter that “the solution can only be political, and Libyan-owned and Libyan-led,” and he reaffirmed the U.N. commitment to talks between the two sides in the Libyan Joint Military Commission, Dujarric said.
The U.N. chief also reiterated his shock at the recent discovery of mass graves in territory recently recaptured from forces commanded by Hifter “and stressed the need for full respect of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” the spokesman said.
The U.N. said June 12 that at least eight mass graves had been discovered, mostly in Tarhuna, a key western town that served as a main stronghold for Khalifa’s forces in their 14-month campaign to capture Tripoli. The discoveries raised fears about the extent of human rights violations in territories controlled by Hifter’s forces, given the difficulties of documentation in an active war zone.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Hifter’s forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-allied militias are aided by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.
Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war in early June after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. They threatened to retake the strategic city of Sirte, which could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Hifter seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli.
Egypt warned that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attacked Sirte, leading Italy, Germany and the United States to call for a cease-fire and de-escalation of tensions in Libya last week.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra air base would amount to crossing a “red line.” He said Egypt could intervene to protect its western border with Libya and bring stability, including establishing conditions for a cease-fire.
The Tripoli-based government said it considered el-Sissi’s comments a “declaration of war,” while authorities in the east welcomed his support.
On Friday, Libya’s National Oil Corporation said Russian and other foreign mercenaries had entered the country’s largest oil field, describing the development as an attempt to thwart the resumption of halted oil production.
Dujarric said that in his conversation with Hifter, Guterres “indicated his commitment to help find a solution for the reopening of blocked oil terminals and oil fields in the country.”
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