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UN calls for truce with thousands of refugees caught in the fighting in Libya

Since Thursday General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces have marched to attack Tripoli. With fighting raging on the outskirts of the city with thousands of refugees caught in between the crossfire.

A UN report, on Sunday, called for a two-hour truce between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. in Wadi Al-Rabeea, Al-Kayikh, Qasr bin Ghashir and Al-Aziziyah, “to ensure the evacuation of the wounded and civilians by ambulances” but the fighting continued with UN warnings of human safety ignored and drowned out by the sounds of war.

A two-year old deal where the EU supports the Libyan coastguard, with financial backing and training in intercepting refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, means that refugees and migrants must be returned to the first port that they embarked from. Due to Libya being a North African country it is a popular exit point due its proximity to Europe. There are currently around 6,000 people including 600 children detained in UN-backed government’s Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) detention centres in Libya. The fighting has also caused more than 2,800 people to flee the conflict zone.

On Monday a statement released by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya, Maria Ribeiro, stated that the “The United Nations continues to call for a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded, from areas of conflict.”

On the day the fighting broke out the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, flew to Tripoli and then to Libya’s second city of Benghazi in the hopes of helping avert military clashes between the internationally-recognized Government, and those loyal to Commander Khalifa Haftar. In a statement on the refugee camps that he visited in Tripoli he said: “[I was] shocked by the level of suffering, and especially by the level of despair that I found. This is, of course, not only a responsibility for Libya, it’s a responsibility for the whole of the international community”.

After meeting General Haftar in Benghazi on Friday, before leaving the country, the UN Secretary-General said:

“I leave Libya with a deep concern and a heavy heart. I still hope [it] will be possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli. The United Nations remain available to facilitate a political solution able to unify Libyan institutions. Whatever happens, the UN will remain committed, and I will remain committed, to supporting the Libyan people. Libyans deserve peace, security, prosperity and respect of their human rights.”

According to Amnesty International the Tripoli-based Health Ministry, states that since the offensive to take over Tripoli at least 25 people have been killed and 80 injured. It also highlighted the abhorrent conditions of refugees who are detained in dangerous areas where militias are based in proximity to these Libyan detention camps.

An Amnesty report published on Monday titled ‘Libya: civilians must be protected as fighting escalates’ condemns the warring parties:

“Both the Libyan National Army and government-aligned militias in western Libya have appalling human rights records and a history of flagrantly flouting international law and committing war crimes, including by carrying out indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, abductions, torture and extrajudicial executions.”

It also states that, “Some of the fighting is also in close proximity to immigration detention centres in Qasr Ben Gashir and Ain Zara, where around 1,300 refugees and migrants are being held”.

Libya is an oil-rich country that has seen unprecedented violence since the overthrow and death dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 with rival administrations and armed groups filling the power vacuum and battling for power. The United Nations-recognizes Fayez Sarraj as the head of the government. Khalifa Haftar is a renegade General in his mid 70s. He gave support to Moammar Kadhafi during the1969 coup. He then moved to Langley, Virginia in the 90s, was granted an American citizenship and at one point had done work for the Central Intelligence Agency. In 2011 he returned to participate in the efforts to overthrow Kadhafi.

He is one of the strongmen in the country with political aspirations to run Libya. Sarraj has accused him of betrayal to the political process and attempting to “plunge the country once again into a spiral of violence and war”.

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