UN moots creation of possible demilitarized zone in Libya

By Sami Zaptia.

London, 9 July 2020:

The possibility of the creation of a ‘‘demilitarized zone’’ in Libya was raised by the UN yesterday. The demilitarized zone would be created between the area east of Misrata and west of Sirte to keep apart forces and foreign allies of the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli and local and foreign forces aligned to Khalifa Hafter.

The new initiative was reported yesterday by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during his remarks to the Security Council on the latest situation in Libya.

Guterres also talked about a ceasefire, a political solution, the Berlin process, external interference by foreign states, violations of the UN Security Council arms embargo, foreign mercenaries, DDR, IDPs, IEDs and booby traps in civilian areas, civilian casualties, mass graves, war crimes, the oil blockade and an independent audit of Libya’s two Central Banks of Libya.

Here is his report in full:

This important meeting — six months after the Berlin International conference on Libya — brings together Security Council members with the Berlin process participants and offers an opportunity to recommit to the principles agreed in Berlin and enshrined in Security Council resolution 2510.

Excellencies,

Time is not on our side in Libya.

The conflict has entered a new phase with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the number of mercenaries involved in the fighting.

Since my Acting Special Representative last updated the Security Council on 19 May, we have witnessed the retreat of the Libyan National Army’s frontlines in Tripoli, the take-over by Government of National Accord of Al-Wutiya airbase, Tarhouna and Bani Walid.

GNA units, with significant external support, continued their advance eastward, and are now 25 km west of Sirte, after two previous attempts to gain control of the city.  The situation on the frontlines has been mostly quiet since 10 June.

However, we are very concerned about the alarming military build-up around the city, and the high-level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the UN arms embargo, UN Security Council resolutions, and the commitments made by Member States in Berlin.

In addition, on Sunday, 5 July, unidentified air force planes launched an attack on Al-Wutiya airbase.

In this gloomy context, all opportunities to unblock the political stalemate must be seized.

De-escalation efforts, including the creation of a possible demilitarized zone, are being undertaken by UNSMIL to reach a negotiated solution and spare lives.

The political situation in eastern Libya has registered some movements indicating renewed support for a political solution to the conflict, as seen in the 23 May initiative by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 6 June Cairo Declaration.

The GNA has also been calling for national elections as a solution to the crisis.

Yet, these openings are fragile given that parties’ positions continue to be determined by military developments and support from external backers.

Similarly, recent developments on the ground have yielded both parties’ agreement to reconvene the 5+5 Joint Military Commission to continue discussions on the draft ceasefire agreement tabled by UNSMIL in Geneva in February.

During this third round of talks — which resumed in June — my Acting Special Representative has convened two virtual meetings with each delegation, which reconfirmed the practical key points of a possible consensus.

The current discussions focus on areas of convergence, including:  the departure of foreign mercenaries; solid counter-terrorism cooperation between military and security institutions across the country; disarmament and demobilization of armed groups throughout Libya; and modalities for a possible ceasefire mechanism that would reflect the new reality on the ground.

The United Nations will continue working with the parties to reach a ceasefire and resume a political process.

In recent days, through a telephone conversation I initiated with Prime Minister Serraj and a call I received from Field Marshal Haftar, I made a strong appeal for both to engage fully in ensuring an effective ceasefire and move swiftly in advancing the political process.

The United Nations, the African Union and the League of Arab States — together with other key regional actors and organizations and the European Union — will continue to work closely together to support the people of Libya as they seek to consolidate their economic, security and political future.

I urge your collective support.

With respect to the Berlin process, three meetings of the Plenary of the International Follow up Committee have taken place this year — on 2 April, 13 May, 22 June. The next meeting is scheduled for this month.

The political, security and economic working groups are all operational and are contributing to UNSMIL’s ongoing efforts for a facilitation of the Libyan-led and Libyan-owned dialogue.

Excellencies,

As a result of the latest military activities in southern Tripoli and Tarhouna, almost 30,000 people were forced to flee their homes, bringing the number of internally displaced people in Libya to over 400,000.

When LNA forces and associated mercenaries withdrew from Tripoli’s southern suburbs, they are reported to have planted improvised explosive devices and land mines, which have injured and killed civilians seeking to return to their homes as well as humanitarian NGO personnel tasked with clearing these deadly devices.

The United Nations is supporting national authorities in risk education and awareness campaigns.

Excellencies,

Between 1 April and 30 June, UNSMIL documented at least 356 civilian casualties, including 102 civilian deaths and 254 civilian injuries.  This is a 172 per cent increase compared to the first quarter of 2020.

Since the beginning of the year, the World Health Organization has documented at least 21 attacks on medical facilities, ambulances and medical personnel.

As battle lines moved to central Libya, acts of retaliation have grown. Social media has been used to incite hatred and violence further fraying an already fragile social fabric.

After the GNA retook control of Tarhouna, numerous mass graves were discovered.

I was shocked by this horror and remind once again all parties to the conflict in Libya of their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

I welcome the decision by the Human Rights Council to establish an international Fact-Finding Mission to Libya to look into human rights violations since the beginning of 2016 and promote accountability.

I also note that the International Criminal Court announced that it would not hesitate to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On 19 June, the United Nations responded to the written request from Prime Minister Serraj to support the investigation into the mass graves.

The UN stands ready to advise on the conduct of investigations, the securing of mass graves and national mechanisms to assist victims.

Excellencies,

A year ago last week, on 2 July, an airstrike on the Tajoura Detention Centre killed at least 52 migrants and injured 87 others.

Since then, migrants and asylum seekers in Libya continue to be routinely subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, abduction for ransom, forced labour and unlawful killings.

I am also deeply concerned about the risks faced by migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers who continue to attempt to cross the Mediterranean.

In 2020, more than 5,000 refugees and migrants have been intercepted or rescued at sea and returned to Libya.

Many of those intercepted have been detained, with an estimated 2,100 migrants and refugees remaining in official detention centres, in some circumstances in appalling conditions.

Authorities must urgently strengthen efforts towards finding alternatives to detention in Libya and more sustainable solutions for vulnerable migrants and refugees.

Excellencies,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a cause of growing concern in Libya.  In the month of June alone, confirmed cases grew by seven-fold.

This has brought the total to 1046 confirmed cases and 32 deaths.  Amid acute shortages of testing kits, the true scale of the pandemic in Libya is likely to be much higher.

I strongly encourage the Libyan authorities to endorse a comprehensive national preparedness and response plan, which is a critical step to ensuring a coherent and coordinated approach to combatting the pandemic.

Adequate resources must be made available to strengthen the country’s capacity to test, trace, isolate and treat people.

Excellencies,

As tensions simmer in central Libya, the United Nations has continued to engage with the parties to prevent the conflict from spreading to Libya’s Oil Crescent region, from which the country derives sixty percent of its oil resources.

The current blockade has already cost over six billion dollars in lost revenues, damaged oil infrastructure and created the conditions for an historically high budget deficit of over 50 per cent of Libya’s GDP.

With the support of Member States, the Mission has undertaken mediation aimed at lifting the oil blockade, in place since January 2020, in order to spare this vitally important area from the full spectre of armed conflict and to alleviate economic hardship compounded by the conflict and COVID-19.

Two days ago, the Economic Working Group comprising the Berlin conference participants held a virtual meeting with the Chairman of the National Oil Corporation and issued a joint statement supporting the National Oil Corporation, as it resumes oil production across Libya.

The National Oil Corporation has declared today its intention to lift force majeure on the eastern port of El Sider to allow a tanker to on-load crude oil now in storage.  It has further called for the immediate departure of all armed groups from the Libyan oil facilities.  I am confident that the Council will continue to support efforts aimed at lifting the oil blockade for the benefit of Libyan people.

Excellencies,

In order to improve the transparent allocation of the country’s abundant resources, UNSMIL has worked tirelessly towards conducting an international audit of the two branches of the Central Bank of Libya.

Unfortunately, this audit has not achieved the envisaged progress due to the obstruction by several key national officials.

This is occurring despite Libya’s own judicial authorities having deemed the audit legal in June of this year.

I call on the Security Council to make full use of the necessary measures to ensure that this essential exercise is initiated as soon as possible.

Mr. President,

UNSMIL remains on the ground in Libya despite the difficult circumstances.

The designation of a new Special Representative will greatly facilitate the Missions’ efforts and I count on the Security Council in expediting the process.

On 10 August, we will mark the one year anniversary of the attack in Benghazi that killed three of our dear colleagues, Hussein al-Hadar, Clive Peck and Seniloli (“Tabs”) Tabuatausole, and injured two others.

The perpetrators of the attack have yet to be identified, but this tragedy will not discourage the UN from delivering on its mandate to bring peace, stability and prosperity to Libya and its people.

Thank you.

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