The top UN envoy for Libya warned on Tuesday that the Arab country is on the verge of civil war that could lead to permanent division.
“Libya is on the verge of descending into a civil war, which could lead to the permanent division of the country. The damage already done will take years to mend, and that’s only if the war is ended now,” Ghassan Salame, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Libya, told the Security Council in a briefing.
“This is the report whose delivery I have spent the nearly last two years trying to avoid. Forty-eight days into the attack on Tripoli by Gen. Haftar’s forces, there has already been too much death and destruction,” he said, referring to the new offensive on the Libyan capital launched on April 4 by the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
The consequences and the risks of the conflict are already painfully clear, especially for the Libyan people: over 460 dead, 29 of them civilians; over 2,400 injured, the majority of them civilians; over 75,000 people forced from their homes, all of them civilians. Over half of the displaced are women and children, said Salame.
Humanitarian actors estimate that over 100,000 men, women and children remain trapped in immediate front-line areas, with over 400,000 more in areas directly impacted by the clashes, he said.
While the conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya were already dire prior to the conflict, these conditions have now gone from bad to worse, he said, adding nearly 3,400 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centers exposed to, or in close proximity to the fighting.
The UN humanitarian agencies have been working around the clock to transfer the most vulnerable from the conflict-affected areas to safer locations, he said.
He noted that the offensive on Tripoli came on the eve of the holding of a national conference in the Libyan city of Ghadames, a key event in Libya’s political process.
“To see those who had enthusiastically accepted our invitation to Ghadames suddenly take up arms against each other to attack the capital, or to defend it, has thrown me into the deepest level of sadness for the opportunity lost and for a hope killed exactly 10 days before its realization,” said Salame.
The attack on Tripoli also imperiled the potential of the talks held on Feb. 27 in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, between Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Gen. Haftar, the sixth of its kind between them, he said.
At those talks, there had been the real opportunity to replace the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, dissolve the parallel government in Beida and create an inclusive, unified national government, which would have shepherded the country through the election process to the end of the transitional period. The understandings reached in Abu Dhabi had also placed the military under civilian control, a key demand of the vast majority of Libyans and many in the international community, he said.
The attack on Tripoli imperils the security of Libya’s immediate neighbors and the wider Mediterranean region, he warned.
The security vacuum created by the withdrawal of many of Gen. Haftar’s troops from the south of the country, coupled with the focus of the western forces on the defense of the capital, is already being exploited by the Islamic State and al-Qaida terrorist groups, he said.
Since April 4, there have been four separate IS attacks in the south of Libya, leaving 17 people killed, more than 10 others wounded and eight kidnapped, said the UN envoy. “Libyan forces that had in the past courageously defended their country against these terrorist groups are now busy fighting each other.”
In addition to the innocent Libyans being ruthlessly subjected to the increasing terror of the IS, there will be a spillover of this violence to Libya’s immediate neighbors, he warned.