Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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UN says Libyan rival forces resume talks to save cease-fire

Tuesday 18/February/2020 - 04:52 PM
The Reference

Libya’s warring sides resumed Tuesday U.N.-brokered talks in Geneva aimed at salvaging a fragile cease-fire in the North African country, the U.N. said, even as eastern Libyan forces stepped up their attacks on the Libyan capital, hitting its port.

It appeared to be the first such attack on Tripoli’s strategic port since Libyan forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Hifter began their siege of the city almost a year ago.

The U.N. envoy called the port attack a “big breach” of the cease-fire.

Footage shared online show thick black smoke rising from the dock areas of Tripoli, supposedly from the shelling.

The current cease-fire was brokered by Russia and Turkey on Jan. 12. But both sides have repeatedly violated the truce, which was supposed to deescalate the fight for control of the Libyan capital.

“We hope to be able in this second round to come to some kind of consensus about what a lasting cease-fire could look like in Libya,” Ghassan Salame, head of the U.N. Libya mission, told reporters in Geneva.

Oil-rich Libya is split between rival governments based in its east and west, each backed by an array of foreign countries apparently jockeying for influence in order to control Libya’s resources.

A U.N.-supported but weak administration, led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, holds only a shrinking area of western Libya, including the capital. It’s been fending off an offensive since last April by forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter. The military commander is allied with a rival government that controls much of Libya’s east and south, including key oil fields and export terminals.

Militias allied with the Tripoli government said Tuesday that Hifter’s forces had shelled the port. The media office for Hifter forces said a vessel carrying Turkish-made weapons, which had docked there, was targeted. It did not elaborate.

The U.N. support mission in Libya said five military representatives from each side have met indirectly Tuesday in Geneva, more than a week after they ended their first round of negotiations without striking a deal that would help end the fighting in Tripoli.

Salame said the talks would focus on stopping “the frequent violations of the truce,” as well as helping civilians displaced by the fighting return to the capital and its surrounding area.

In the previous round of talks, the U.N. mission said there was “broad consensus” between the two sides on “the urgency for Libyans to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the country, and to “stop the flow of non-Libyan fighters and send them out of the country.”

Hifter’s forces rely on military assistance from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. On the other side, Turkey, Italy and Qatar support the embattled Tripoli-based government.

Powerful tribes loyal to the eastern the commander Hifter have also largely stopped the country’s oil production, after they seized last month several large oil export terminals along Libya’s eastern coast as well as its southern oil fields.

The country’s National Oil Corporation, which dominates Libya’s critical oil industry and is based in Tripoli, said losses from the oil closures have reached more than $1.6 billion as of Monday.

The daily oil production has since the closure fallen to 135,745 barrels a day from about 1.2 million. It put the daily losses at close to $59 million.

Libya has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world and the biggest oil reserves in Africa.

The corporation reiterated its warning that the blockade is quickly depleting fuel that supplies Libyan power stations.

The Geneva talks come amid intensified diplomacy among world powers seeking to end the conflict that has ravaged Libya for nine years and increasingly drawn in foreign powers.

European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to launch a new maritime effort focused on enforcing the U.N arms embargo around the North African country.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.

The fighting for Tripoli has taken a heavy toll on migrants and refugees sheltering in detention centers in the capital. Libya is a major way station for those fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and seeking to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.

The Libyan coast guard intercepted more than 300 migrants off Libya’s coast and returned them on Monday to the capital where they ended up in an overcrowded detention center, the U.N. migration agency said.

Human rights groups have criticized the migrant facilities in Libya, saying they are rife with abuses and dangerous conditions. The International Organization for Migration said Tuesday more than 1,500 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year.