UN secretary-general welcomes the positive response from the government on March 18 and warlord Haftar's militia on March 21 to calls for a humanitarian pause to allow the country to focus on the danger from the coronavirus.

Fighters loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) drive a tanks on a road in an area south of the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 15, 2020.
Fighters loyal to the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) drive a tanks on a road in an area south of the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 15, 2020. (AFP)

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday welcomed positive responses from Libya’s warring parties to calls for a humanitarian pause in fighting to allow authorities to respond to the public health challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The UN chief “hopes that this will be translated into an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when the US intervened during a civil war to topple longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. In the chaos that followed the country was divided into two seats of power with warlord Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya, supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the GNA in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.

The GNA has been under attack by Haftar’s militia since last April, with more than 1,000 people killed in the violence.

Libya has not recorded any cases of the COVID-19 disease, but experts fear an outbreak could be catastrophic due to the country's degraded health system.

Widespread virus fear

According to media reports, fear of the new coronavirus is widespread in Libya, with the government announcing a curfew starting Sunday night over concerns of a possible outbreak and Haftar’s militia worried that foreign mercenaries fighting alongside them may have the virus.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) said in a statement on Saturday that the curfew would begin at 6:00 pm and end at 6:00 am. (1600-0400 GMT).

It also ordered the closure of restaurants, cafes and party halls and banned funeral and wedding ceremonies.

Last month, the UN Security Council endorsed a 55-point road map for ending the war in Libya that 12 key leaders agreed to at a conference in Berlin on January 19.

This past week, the UN Mission in Libya and a large number of international groups called on the opposing parties to declare an immediate humanitarian pause in hostilities and halt the transfer of military equipment and personnel into the country to enable a response to the pandemic.

Addressing the threat

Dujarric said the secretary-general welcomed the positive response from the government on March 18 and Haftar's militia on March 21 to calls for a humanitarian pause.

“Given the already dire humanitarian situation in Libya and the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the secretary-general calls on the parties to join forces to address the threat and to ensure unhindered access of humanitarian aid throughout the country,” the UN spokesman said.

Guterres urges both sides to accept the draft cease-fire agreement reached during UN-facilitated talks in Geneva last month, Dujarric said.

Source: AP