More than 3,400 people have fled fighting near the Libyan capital Tripoli in recent days, the UN warned on Monday, in a call to warring parties to halt military activities so that emergency services can rescue trapped civilians.
The UN chief António Guterres, in a short statement issued to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, by his Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said that he was continuing to follow the situation in Libya “with grave concern”, after urging an end to troop movements last week during a visit to the country.
He said the UN Support Mission, (UNSMIL), would continue with its work on behalf of all Libyans, from its headquarters in the capital, Tripoli. Mr. Dujarric said that Ghassan Salamé, head of UNSMIL and UN Special Representative, had met the head of the internationally-recognized Government in Libya, Faiez Serraj, earlier on Monday, “with whom he discussed ways the UN can assist, with this critical and difficult juncture. As the Secretary-General said before leaving Benghazi on Friday, the United Nations remains available to facilitate any political solution, able to unify the Libyan institutions.”
“Clashes with heavy weapons are affecting residential areas, and an unknown number of civilians are unable to flee these locations”, said Mr. Dujarric. “We are calling for a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services, and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded from the areas of conflict.”
In a statement released earlier on Monday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, reminded the warring sides of their obligations to protect non-combatants, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.
Ms. Ribeiro’s comments echoed a Security Council plea for a ceasefire after Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, of Germany, Council President for the month, told reporters on Friday that the 15-member body’s members were “deeply concerned” over the risk to Libyan “stability”.
According to reports, at least 32 people have been killed and 50 injured since Thursday’s clashes between eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces and Government forces in the Libyan capital.
On Sunday, it was also reported that the Commander’s forces – the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) – had carried out an airstrike on a Tripoli suburb, followed by retaliatory attacks on airbases in eastern Libya by forces loyal to the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord.
UNSMIL chief Salamé, issued a statement late on Monday, condemning an “aerial attack today by LNA aircraft against Meitiga airport, the capital’s only functioning airport that is available for civilian use. As such, this attack constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure.”
Ms. Ribeiro’s comments on the deteriorating humanitarian situation, came as the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned the killing at the weekend of two doctors who had been providing “critically needed services to civilians” in Tripoli.
“It is unacceptable for health workers to be targeted during armed conflict,” said Dr. Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “These doctors risked their lives to evacuate wounded patients from conflict areas, and targeting them and health facilities at such times, worsens the situation for civilians caught up in conflict.”
The fighting in and around Tripoli comes after the UN chief left the troubled country on Friday “with a heavy heart”, following meetings with Commander Haftar in Benghazi city in the east, and senior Government officials in Tripoli.
“I leave Libya with a heavy heart and deeply concerned”, the UN Secretary-General tweeted. “The UN is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan people.”
The UN is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan people – UN chief Guterres
Highlighting the increased risk to migrants and refugees caught up in the offensive on Tripoli, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, warned that it was “further increasing” the misery of all those “arbitrarily detained in detention centres”.
Echoing those concerns, the UN Migration Agency, IOM, warned on Friday that men, women and children “who are being held in often sub-human conditions…are particularly vulnerable” to the uptick in violence.
IOM Director General António Vitorino also warned that Libya “is not a safe place to return migrants who have tried and failed to make their way to Europe”, noting that so far this year, 1,073 migrants, among them 77 children, have been returned to Libya after interception and rescue at sea and placed in arbitrary detention.