UN chief Antonio Guterres warns of foreign interference in Libya, including delivery of sophisticated equipment and number of mercenaries involved in fighting there.

Troops loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government prepare themselves before heading to Sirte, in Tripoli, Libya, July 6, 2020.
Troops loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government prepare themselves before heading to Sirte, in Tripoli, Libya, July 6, 2020. (Reuters Archive)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the Security Council that the conflict in Libya has entered a new phase "with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels."

"The conflict has entered a new phase with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the number of mercenaries involved in the fighting," Guterres said on Wednesday.

"The United Nations will continue working with the parties to reach a ceasefire and resume a political process," he added.

The oil-producing country descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. 

The country's Government of National Accord (GNA) was founded in 2015 under an UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to a military offensive by warlord Khalifa Haftar, who has been backed by France, Russian paramilitary group Wagner, United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The GNA is backed by Turkey.

READ MORE: Libya's UN-recognised govt condemns 'foreign air force' raids on airbase

'No place for foreign mercenaries'

"We continue to oppose all foreign military intervention in Libya," said US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft. 

"There is no place for foreign mercenaries or proxy forces in Libya, including ... Russian government proxies."

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected the accusations of Russian involvement in Libya.

"But we know about other countries' military personnel, including from those countries that accuse us, to be present on Libyan soil, East and West," he told the council, calling on all states with influence on the Libyan parties to push for a truce.

United Arab Emirates minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, told the council there were "roughly 10,000 Syrian mercenaries operating in Libya, approximately twice as many as there were six months ago."

New frontlines

Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya, strengthening Haftar's militia, according to a confidential May report by independent sanctions monitors to the UN Security Council Libya sanctions committee.

The warring parties are currently mobilising at the new front lines between the cities of Misrata and Sirte. Egypt has said advances by Libya's UN-recognised unity government to retake Sirte could prompt Egyptian military intervention.

"We are very concerned about the alarming military build-up around the city, and the high-level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the UN arms embargo, UN Security Council resolutions, and commitments made by Member States in Berlin," Guterres said.

UAE presence in Libya

Taher al Sonni, Libya's Permanent Representative to the UN, denounced UAE presence in Libya.

"UAE is undoubtedly involved in supporting the unsuccessful coup attempt in Libya and in threatening international peace and security in several parts of the world, as indicated in various UN reports,  and has not been able to date to defend itself to what was stated against them," Sonni told the Security Council.

"And for all these reasons we no longer accept its engagement in our political dialogues. And it is strange to hear the foreign minister [of the UAE] claiming peace and stability and not able to speak about the weapons that they are sending to the other party," Sonni added.

'Ceasefire talks is key'

Guterres said that between April and June this year the UN mission has documented at least 102 civilians deaths and 254 civilians injuries – a 172 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2020. He said there had also been at least 21 attacks on medical facilities, ambulances and medical personnel.

Guterres also called on the Security Council to take action over the obstruction by several key national officials of an international audit of the Central Bank of Libya.

He said the United Nations was working to mediate an end to a blockade imposed in January by warlord Haftar that has resulted in more than $6 billion in lost revenue for OPEC member Libya, aiming "to alleviate economic hardship compounded by the conflict and Covid-19."

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said the US is monitoring "the movement of Wagner mercenaries and their aligned foreign fighters from Sudan and elsewhere to southern oil facilities."

"Ceasefire talks is key, as is compliance with the UN arms embargo by all member states, including members of this Council," Craft said.

The confirmed number of coronavirus cases in Libya increased seven-fold in June to more than 1,000, but Guterres said "the true scale of the pandemic in Libya is likely to be much higher." 

Supporting Haftar is against UN

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sedat Onal stressed that some UNSC members are supporting the warlord Haftar and looking him as an equal player in the country against UN-recognised government.

“Despite the clear provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2259, many actors have established relations with parallel organisations in Libya. This approach is against UN political agreement on Libya and is nothing more than an endorsement for Haftar to continue attacking the legitimate government and as a matter of fact, Haftar has already announced his military dictatorship. It is a mistake to recognise an attacker as being on equal terms with a recognised government. This serious mistake must be corrected."

Irini sanctions only UN-backed government

Onal also criticised the EU operation Irini that aims to enforce an arms embargo on Libya in the Mediterranean sea saying that warlord Haftar is obtaining weapons by land and air.

“In an environment where Haftar acquired all the weapons he needed and he has backed by land and air support, this operation is actually sanctioning only the legitimate government. This problem should be resolved,” said, citing Egypt, UAE and Russian support.

Recent weeks, France accused Ankara that the Turkish navy harassed a French warship in the Eastern Mediterranean while they were patrolling for arms embargo for Libya, which NATO did not confirm Paris' claims.

Regarding the incident with French vessels in the Mediterranean, Onal underlined that Elysee’s claims are baseless and it is an international responsibility to support the UN-backed government’s legitimacy and civilians in the country.

“Following the request by the Libyan government, we provide training and technical assistance that it established a balance in the field and prevented a larger humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Ceasefire?

Russia and Turkey are working on an immediate ceasefire agreement for the conflict in Libya, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Lavrov said Haftar's militia, which Russia backs, is ready to sign a ceasefire document and hopes that Turkey will manage to convince the GNA to do the same.

Turkey, UK in agreement on political solution

In the meantime Turkey and the UK agree on a diplomatic solution for Libya, Turkey’s foreign minister said.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, who is paying a one-day working visit to London, said Turkey thinks the only solution in Libya conflict is a political one, adding: “We need to give pace to this political process under the roof of the UN.”

The conditions of the legitimate Sarraj government in Libya must be met for a ceasefire in Libya and it needs to be a permanent ceasefire, Cavusoglu noted.

His remarks came after a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street.

READ MORE: The UN intervenes in Libya as Haftar’s mass graves are uncovered

Source: TRTWorld and agencies