February 4, 2020 / 9:20 AM / 20 days ago

U.N. Secretary General says Libya situation a 'scandal'

GENEVA/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called the situation in Libya a “scandal” even as his envoy cited a “genuine will” by rival military factions as they planned their first meeting to secure a lasting ceasefire.

“I am deeply frustrated with what’s happening in Libya,” Guterres said in a press conference in which he was critical of countries that last month met in Berlin to push for progress in Libya peace talks.

“They committed not to interfere in the Libyan process and they committed not to send weapons or participate in any way in the fighting,” Guterres said at the United Nations headquarters in New York. “The truth is that the Security Council (arms) embargo remains violated.”

He called the mediation efforts of U.N. envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame “the only good news” there.

Salame told reporters earlier Tuesday that there was a “genuine will to start negotiating” between opposite sides, though he added that an arms embargo was being violated by both sides and that new mercenaries and arms were still arriving “by air and by sea” in Libya. Forces loyal to eastern based commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to take the capital, Tripoli, for the past 10 months.

The talks bring together five senior military officers from Haftar’s Libyan National Army and five from forces aligned with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

Fighting has continued on the ground despite a call for a truce by Russia and Turkey starting on Jan. 12 and the international summit on Libya in Berlin on Jan. 19 aimed at reducing international interference.

Haftar has had material support from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, and Russia, U.N. experts and diplomats say, while the GNA is backed militarily by Turkey.

Salame deplored the presence of more than “20 million pieces of weaponry” in the country and said he had asked the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution to reaffirm an existing arms embargo and pass measures to ensure it is respected.

Talks between the two sides, who did not meet face-to-face in Geneva on Monday, were aiming “to bridge the gaps in their views on how the lasting, sustainable ceasefire can be organised on the ground,” Salame said.

“We started yesterday to discuss with them a long list of points on our agenda, starting on an attempt to transform the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side and also to transform that truce into a real agreement on a lasting ceasefire,” he said.

Haftar’s offensive, which upended a previous U.N. peace plan, deepened the gulf between loose alliances that have competed for power from western and eastern Libya since 2014.

The GNA was set up in 2016 from a previous U.N. peace push that Haftar and his backers spurned.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The conflict that developed in Libya in the years since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 has given space to militants and migrant smugglers and crippled Libya’s oil reliant economy.

A blockade of oil ports and fields by groups loyal to Haftar that began just before the Berlin conference has reduced oil output by about one million barrels per day (bpd).

Asked if he would press Haftar to end the blockade, Salame said it was mainly an issue being pursued on the ground, urging foreign powers to back a broader U.N. bid to resume production.

Reporting by Emma Farge and Rodrigo Campos; additional reporting and writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean and Richard Chang

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