First clashes in Tripoli after French, German ministers visit

First clashes erupt in Tripoli since UN-backed government's arrival after French and German foreign ministers fly to Libya to support unity government

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A member of the force assigned to protect Libya's unity government stands at the entrance to where the government has their offices, in Tripoli, Libya on April 14, 2016.

Updated Apr 17, 2016

Clashes broke out in Tripoli on Saturday night just hours after a visit by the French and German foreign ministers in the first outbreak of violence since the arrival of the UN-backed government two weeks ago.

Gunfire and small explosions could be heard in the Hay el Andalous area north of the capital and continued for about 30 minutes, an AFP correspondent said, adding that there was still sporadic gunfire and the sound of ambulance sirens.

Hay el Andalous is an upmarket area that houses embassies and where many politicians, including some members of the UN-backed government, have their homes. It is a few kilometres (miles) from the seat of the new government at Tripoli's naval base.

Authorities could not be reached for immediate comment on Saturday.

Ahmed Maiteeq from Presidential Council of Government of National Accord stands next to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya, April 16, 2016. (Reuters)

The French and German foreign ministers made an unannounced visit to Tripoli on Saturday to support Libya’s United Nations-backed unity government, saying that they were ready to offer training for the country’s security forces and border guards if it is demanded.

The Western countries trust in the unity government to deal with DAESH terrorists in Libya and prevent new arrivals of refugees heading north across the Mediterranean, though the new government’s leaders are still trying to establish themselves in Tripoli.

France's Jean-Marc Ayrault and Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier flew into the capital amid tight security for talks with the UN-backed cabinet which has set up operations at a naval base in the city.

After talks at the naval base where the government’s Presidential Council has been working since its arrival late last month, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that training provided by Europe for Libyan forces was likely to begin outside the country in the initial stages.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya on April 16, 2016. (Reuters)

"I think it is realistic enough to say we have to start training measures from my point of view outside of Libya," Steinmeier told reporters adding that training could be in Libya later if the security situation stabilised.

Steinmeier said that EU states would only act when Libya requested and that the issue would be addressed at a dinner for EU foreign and defence ministers to discuss Libya on Monday.

"Nothing will be done unless the government wants it and examines it in a very concrete manner," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

Libya has been in political turmoil since the ousting of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

There have been two competing sets of parliament and governments in Tripoli and Tobruk.

Militia infighting and political squabbling among factions in the country hampered previous foreign efforts to train Libyan security forces.

"We will not repeat the mistakes of 2011, we need to be clear on that," Ayrault said.

Ayrault said that it was also "very important" for Libya's eastern, internationally recognised parliament to hold a vote on the new government. That vote has been repeatedly delayed, but the parliament is expected to convene on Monday.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayraultr speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya on April 16, 2016. (Reuters)

Ayrault also said that France was calling on Libya’s neighbours, including Egypt, which is close to military forces allied with Tobruk, to get behind the UN-backed administration.

"There is no other possible path," Ayrault said.

Unity government head Fayez Seraj said that three priorities for his administration were reconciliation, security and trying to revive the country’s economy, which has been hit by tumbling oil revenues.

"We are seeking international support in Libya in fighting terrorism but we don't expect an international intervention in the field," Seraj said.

"We're expecting cooperation in tackling illegal migration so that we can see Libyan beaches as they were before and not as a source of boats of death," he added.

Seraj also said that the unity government would start moving into ministries in Tripoli "in the next couple of days," and that it would not wait for the eastern parliament to vote before doing so.

The UN-backed unity government arrived in the Libyan capital late last month where it is trying to establish itself. The international community hopes it can end Libya's security crisis and political turmoil and unite some of its armed factions to take on DAESH terrorist organisation.

TRTWorld and agencies